Friday, December 31, 2010

And a Happy New Year!

Happy New Year - Yıl Başınız Kutlu Olsun - Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku -Bonne Année

Best wishes to you and yours for the coming year!

Much of the Arabic world follows the Hijri calendar. While the Gregorian calendar is based on the phases of the sun, the Muslim calendar, like the Jewish calendar, is based on the cycles moon. This end of the Gregorian year 2010 corresponds to Al Hijri 1432. The Hijri calendar only has 354-355 days, which moves holidays up and down the seasons. For example, Ramadan was in the middle of summer this year, while Lent is always in the spring.

Also, since Friday is the Muslim holy day, in the countries which follow Hijri most people work on Saturday and Sunday. So when I worked in Abu Dhabi, I had Thursday and Friday off. However, in Turkey, society follows the Gregorian calendar and work days. The change was part of the extensive reforms proposed by Ataturk and his Westernization of the country.

As for the Mayan calendar... I just hope it's wrong because I still have a book to publish!

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Mystery of Kekik

Winter savoryImage via Wikipedia
When you live abroad, you need to relearn some things. The names of the herbs and spices in your kitchen is one of those things. The names can vary from regions to region, which is what I found in Turkey.

Technically, kekik translates to thyme. Practically, it can mean: thyme, winter savory, and sometimes even rosemary. It's a little bit frustrating, but worth learning the latin names of plants for this very reason. Finding someone else who knows the latin names is an entirely different story. You just have to wing it.

When I lived in Mersin, we'd regularly picnic in the foothills. Searching for the wild herb was part of the excursion. We grilled our kebabs with it there and took plenty home to dry. That was lucky for me, because if it had been in a jar labelled Kekik, I would have never found out what it really was.

I searched for the "Mersin kekik" here in the states. To the untrained eye, it does look a lot like thyme, but it isn't. Kekik tastes like mint and thyme got together, so I tried that. Combining those two herbs doesn't do the same thing. When I finally found it at the nursery, the label said winter savory, satureja montana... I grow it in my yard now for a steady supply because you can't buy it at the supermarket.  It's an essential herb for grilling lamb (super yum!) and for my white bean stew.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Look Into My Crystal Ball

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the ...Image via WikipediaTasseography, or reading the coffee grounds, is my point of inspiration for several parts of my MS. Simple acceptance of pscychic ability doesn't work for me or my MC though. So I had to find a way for a girl to rationalize it.

How could it work if say... we accept the Multiverse theory? That's where I go into a tale-spin cycle.

If a fortuneteller were to look at our lives from another angle, they might see the inevitable. An aerial view, if you will. They could know your relationship isn't going to last because from up there, they can see he's already cheating.

But what about The Secret?

What if tapping into a superconscious gives the fortuneteller information from collective knowledge. For example, he's already thinking about leaving you, but he hasn't said anything. Or maybe the fortuneteller is looking into your past and picking out familiar patterns. All of these things involve perspective alone. What if the fortuneteller can't change her perspective (she is only human after all) but she can contact someone who does a ghost...or a djinn. Yes, djinn are supposed to live in a parallel universe, so that theory works like magic!

Why is it that we accept angels, ghosts and demons without a second thought, but seeing the future needed an explanation?
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Three Princes of Serendip

This isn't exactly a Western Tale with Eastern Roots, but the "three brothers" concept is universal and this one is the story behind our word Serendipity. It's also special to me because, as you see, it's the name of my blog.

Interesting note: Serendip is the old name for Sri Lanka.

The story goes like this...

A wise king schools his three sons, but decides they need some exposure to the world so he casts them out. As soon as they arrive on foreign shores, they're met with a puzzle. They collect the clues of The Lost Camel and, with great concern, inquire at the camel merchant. The merchant is indeed missing a camel and he accuses the three brothers of stealing it, for how could they know all the unique details otherwise?

The details:

The camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other.

The three brothers are brought before the Emperor and their story is put to the test.
  • The camel only ate from one side of the road -the side he could see!
  • Lumps of half-chewed grass at the side of the road fell through the gap in the camel's teeth.
  • Footprints of the woman were found and handprints nearby suggested that she needed to push herself up, because of her large stomach.
  • Because the camel was lame, it dropped a trail of it's load, melted butter, on one side of the road.
  • Flies came to the honey trail on the other.
In the end, the three banished princes are lavished with riches and appointed to be the emperor's advisors.
Wikipedia defines serendipity as a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated. Discovering Penicillin, for example, was serendipitous. Some people point out that the sagacity of the person making an observation is the important factor, though. Another scientist might have thrown out the petri dish. Another traveller wouldn't have guessed what the three princes did.

So...revisions, betas, revisions, revisions, more critiques, revisions...maybe at the end of my trail of revisions, I'll be rewarded with a published book. Because as the Roman philosopher Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

Related articles

Next month's series is International Romance. I'll be hosting some fabulous women with firsthand knowledge of the subject: Nicole Ducleroir, Katie Mills, Jessica Bell, and Joanna St. James ! Stay tuned for their posts on Tuesdays in January.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Flavors of Turkey

With all the spices available at the Mısır Çarşı, I think some people would believe that Turkish food is inherently spicy hot. Most of the time it isn't. What is Turkish cuisine: lots of olive oil, pilavs, all sorts of vegetable dishes, kebabs and koftes (meatballs), awesome fetas and of course Baklava. That's really just a slice of what's available! If got into the dolmas (stuffed anything) and meze, I'd be here all day.

Are you hungry?

Sheilah Kaufman spent some time in Turkey exploring the countryside and the cuisine. Then she and Nur Ilkin whipped up The Turkish Cookbook. The title earned a spot on the Washington Post's Top Cookbooks of 2010 list.

Might be a good place to spend that gift card you got for the holidays...

Related Articles:

US gastronome's book on Turkish cuisine tops list
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...Image via Wikipedia Technically, I don't celebrate. But it's Christmas Eve, and most of you are probably either with family, or about to be, so no post today!

Merry Christmas!
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arabic Calligraphy

The Ottomans wrote in Arabic calligraphy and it scrolls across historic buildings all over Turkey. As an art form, the elegant, interlaced lettering is worthy of framing. However, it's a good thing Ataturk changed everything over to a Latin alphabet, or I'd never figure out what anything meant!

Take for example, the Tuğra (seal or signature) of Suleiman the Magnificent at the right. Talk about a John Hancock! I can't figure out where the first letter is...forget about finding a word. To be sure, most building names are more linear. But Arabic lettering, even written by a regular person, has a way of connecting and contorting itself into something I can't decipher.

(It's also written from right-to-left, which adds to my overall confusion. Maybe it's just me though, I tried learning Cyrillic when I studied Russian and even though that's written left-to-right, only a few of those letters stuck. An interesting aside: Kurdish can be written with Arabic lettering, Cyrillic lettering, or Latin lettering.)

 Some calligraphy is even shaped into objects, like the bird below.

I asked my beloved to translate it for me. (He reads Arabic and speaks Turkish, so he should be able to come up with something, right? Well...)

After some head tilting and a few mumbles, we know that someone named Abdulreni wrote it in...1167? Something about he must have been a Sufi. You know, one of the whirling Dervishes, like Rumi...and something about Allah, so it's a religious piece. Besides that, your guess is as good as mine.

You might think anyone who can manage to read the Arabic lettering would understand. Yet the Ottoman words themselves are Turkish, so someone who only spoke Arabic wouldn't know what the words meant, even if they could recognize the letters. Which makes sense, because I can't read Latin, even though English uses the same lettering.

Another interesting aside: Farsi, the language of Iran (Persia), also uses Arabic lettering, but with modifications.

Some Interesting Links:
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Many Worlds Interpretation

en:Many-worlds interpretationImage via WikipediaWikipedia:

Many-worlds is a postulate of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, but denies the reality of wavefunction collapse, which implies that all possible alternative histories and futures are real —each representing an actual "world" (or "universe").

Can someone help me make sense of this jibberish?

Sounds like the storylines in my head, if I think about it. I can take my MC down different paths, or retrace and try another. I'm sure most writers will agree that it's a really neat feeling. However, I'm more interested in the Pandora/Narnia type parallel universe for my novel.

I have a way for my MC to occassionally eavesdrop between the parallel universes, because I want the reader to keep track of time and consequence. But is it necessary? I wonder... Storyline A didn't need storyline B, until I created the opportunity. Yet I have three saved versions of my novel, so they do exists sided by side on my bookshelf.

Just babbling today...
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo!

 Of course, The Magic Song comes from Cinderella!

I was working in the elementary school library last week when I came across Glass Slipper Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis. (A perk of volunteering.) It's a beautiful compilation of the Cinderella story as it crosses the globe. Here's the authors note:

A chameleon changes color to match its surroundings. Stories do the same. The earliest recorded Cinderella tale is thought to date from ninth-century China. Traveling across the globe, it changed its clothes but not its essence. Rivalry, injustice, and the dream of wrongs righted are universal, no matter our garments. When the story reached France, it acquired the glass slippers and coachmen-mice familiar to Western readers. More than a thousand other versions are known.

Actually, Strabo recorded a tale of Thracian courtesan Rhodopis and Pharoah Ahmose II in the 1st Century BC, but try explaining what a courtesan is to your kid....(NOT a good idea.) The Iraqi Cinderella story, while different from the Western version, bears a stronger resemblance to the French tale told by Charles Perrault. No fairy godmother looks out for our heroine, instead a little Red Fish takes up the role and "Cinderella" wears sandals of gold. Here's a line from that version:

Let the king's wife know
They put the ugly one on show
And hide the beauty down below!

So no tower for this Cinderella either, but there's definitely a wicked stepmother!

Related Articles:

Iraqi Cinderella Story

Dark Original Version of Classic Fairytale: Cinderella - The Gruesome Ending (
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Elif Shafak

via wikipedia
Where do I even start?

Elif Safak is who I want to be when I grow up... that's probably not helpful to you.

Here's a quote to give you an idea of her mindset:

“Istanbul makes one comprehend, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that East and West are ultimately imaginary concepts, and can thereby be de-imagined and re-imagined.”

Or how about Wikipedia's summary:

Elif Shafak (sometimes spelled Elif Şafak), (born 1971, Strasbourg, France) is an award-winning writer and the most widely read writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. She blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling to generate fiction that is both local and universal. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, as well as deep interest in history, philosophy, oral culture, and cultural politics.

She's a global citizen.

What do I mean by that? I guess you could say she fits into the Pomegranate Club - not an apple, not an orange, always seeking to bridge cultural divides. Of course, she does this best through her literature, often addressing topics such as minorities and women's issues. The Bastard of Istanbul is probably her best known work in English, but her latest The Forty Rules of Love is quickly catching up.

Here's the Booklist reiew of The Bastard of Istanbul

*Starred Review* The new Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has faced charges for making anti-Turkish remarks regarding the long denied mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Acclaimed Turkish writer Shafak has also been hauled into court for "insulting Turkishness." The case was dropped, and her bold and penetrating tale of the tragic repercussions of the Armenian genocide will live on. In her second novel in English following The Saint of Incipient Insanities (2004), Shafak tells a many-faceted, mischievously witty, and daringly dramatic story that is at once a study in compassion, a shrewd novel of ideas, a love song to Istanbul, and a sensuous and whirling satire. The novel's ruling force is gorgeous Zeliha, the unapologetically sexy proprietor of an Istanbul tattoo parlor. An unwed mother at 19, she has raised her daughter, Asya (now 19 herself and obsessed with Johnny Cash), in a chaotic, food-centric household that includes her mother, grandmother, and three sisters: Banu, the pious clairvoyant; Cevriye, the high-strung history teacher; and Feride, the neurotic. The sisters haven't seen their Americanized brother, Mustafa, for almost 20 years, and are stunned when his 19-year-old stepdaughter, Armanoush, whose mother is from Kentucky and whose father is Armenian, arrives in Istanbul to search for her Armenian roots. As Asya and Armanoush forge a tentative friendship unaware of all that they actually share, others panic over the looming revelation of shocking secrets. Shafak weaves an intricate and vibrant saga of repression and freedom, cultural clashes and convergences, pragmatism and mysticism, and crimes and retribution, subtly revealing just how inextricably entwined we all are, whatever our heritage or beliefs. Donna Seaman

Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Elif Shafak tours US with "Black Milk"

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Famous Pomegranates

Last week, I officially opened the Pomegranate Society for fellow expats, ex-expats, and all of us who don't fit into the Apple or Orange category who would like to join. Some famous pomegranates for you to ponder:

President Barak Obama
Freddie Mercury
Sandra Bullock
Uma Thurman
Viggo Mortensen (In the pic.)
Kobe Bryant
Dr. Gregory House - OK, he's a fictional character, but his TCK may be part of what's ailing him.

All of these people have more than one thing in common. Not only have they lived abroad, they also spent some of their formative childhood years there. Where ever "there" may be. Michican State Anthropologist, Ruth Hill Useem, coined the phrase Third-Culture Kid when she observed the effects on her own children.

Wikipedia explains the difference between an expat and a TCK:

TCKs grow up in a genuinely cross-cultural world. While expatriates watch and study cultures that they live in, third culture kids actually live in different cultural worlds. TCKs have incorporated different cultures on the deepest level, as to have several cultures incorporated into their thought processes. This means that third culture kids not only have deep cultural access to at least two cultures, this also means that thought processes are truly multicultural.

Makes sense, doesn't it? I think TCKs are a whole subspecies of pomegranates, with a lot of positive and negative baggage from the experience, but I'll get to that next week. Did I mention I'm married to one?

Next time I'll explore how this topic influences my writing.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Memorable Mosaics

The most magnificent mosaics I've ever seen were in Italy. St. Peter's in Rome, Ravenna, the Basilica San Marco of Venice....

Water from the infamous Venetian floods is wreaking havoc on Basilica San Marco though, so the floors are a treacherous proposition for anyone to navigate. It's a shame because you want to look up, but then you really need to look down or you'll be making a less-than-graceful swan dive.

Turkey has it's fair share of mosaics too. In fact, experts were busy uncovering some more in the Hagia Sophia recently. The latest find was the seraphim pictured here and there are plans to uncover matching ones in three other corners of the building. But while some historians revel in this piece of news, many are lamenting the flooding of Allianoi.

Mosaics of the Roman baths at Allianoi, near Bergama, suffered from years of disuse and disrepair because of flooding by the nearby Ilya river. When the site was slated to be flooded permanently by a state dam building project however, world heritage organizations finally woke up and said something. Too little, too late, I'm afraid. 

In my MS, the Narlikuyu mosaic depicting the three graces makes a cameo appearance. The Roman bath it's located in is probably Turkey's smallest museum and it could use a dusting!

The moral of my story - go visit some of these places! They're more than worth our time and some of them, unfortunately, won't be around forever.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Phoenix

 The US cover of the Jonathan Stroud's latest book sports a gorgeous specimen of the phoenix. Don't you think?

The Ring of Solomon is a prequel to the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This installment of the series is based on the grandfather of all djinn tales, King Solomon's supposed connection to the djinn and an infamous ring talisman. Even I couldn't avoid mentioning it my MS. But back to the phoenix. I love those too and I guess I'm not the only one who thought it was a fitting creature for a djinn. Except my use of the phoenix is more symbolic and sometimes metaphysical.

For example, some important lore that led to my use of the Phoenix for dinn nature and more specifically, my MC:

  • Phoenix Rising has many similarities to Kundalini, which I use as an energy source for djinn.
  • A phoenix is a creature (or person) rising from the ashes of the former self. An arabian Phoenix is born of fire, dies by fire, and is symbolic of rebirth.
  • In Chinese culture, the phoenix represents the female or the yin. The Taoist idea of duality of all things is the balance of Yin and Yang.
  • The bird famously kills snakes - even a basilisk. If you read my earlier post, The Seed, you'll know where I'm going with this.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beware the Green-Ey'd Monster...

Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othe...Image via Wikipedia
Sayeth Master Shakespeare!

And when sorrows and evils like these he must brave

His happiest homestead were down in the grave.

Sayeth Richard Francis Burton, in his version of Scheherazade's tale of
The Three Apples.

Western Tales with Eastern Roots is sticking to Shakespeare for one more week to explore Othello.

My absolute favorite villain is Iago. Not that I love bad guys, (although I do adore Kenneth Branagh) but I love the way his character so deftly propels everyone else to doom. Iago isn't even entirely to blame for the tragedy. He simply plays on Othello's weakness. Othello is the one who acts. The devil may whisper in your ear, but you're the one who's supposed to know better.

So The Three Apples goes something like this:

The Caliph and his right hand man, Ja'afar, are strolling the streets and come across a lamenting fisherman. Of course, they stop to find out the problem. The fisherman has pulled something gruesome from the river: a beautiful woman, dismembered and crammed into a reed sack. Our mighty and just Caliph decides the murderer must be found and brought to justice. Lucky for Ja'afar, he happens to be along for the walk and the job is assigned to him.

When Ja'afar starts asking questions about the woman in the reed sack, the weeping husband is brought before the Caliph. The man realizes his mistake, because his sons are all crying and confess to the tale of a missing apple. So what's the deal with the apple?

The man, whose wife had fallen ill, went off in search of special apples from a faraway orchard because she desired them. She was a good wife so he loved her dearly and would have done anything for her. When he returned, he placed the apples near her bed. While she slept, one of their children took an apple. That child ran into a slave who tricked him out of it. The husband came across said slave with the apple and questioned him about it. The slave's response? "I got it from my new lover."

Well. Who is a man to believe? The wife he loves so dearly, who can't explain where the apple went? Or the slave who has the red-hot apple from his new lover? The dead woman in the reed sack knows the answer to that queston.

But then who was the guilty slave? Why it was Ja'afar's own! (Bet you thought Ja'afar was the bad guy from Aladdin.)'s some fun with Othello:

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Orhan Pamuk

Cover of "My Name Is Red"Cover of My Name Is RedThought I'd share a couple of contemporary Turkish authors with this week, one next. Their books are available in English and you can find them at Borders, Amazon, etc.

You've probably heard of Orhan Pamuk because he's a Nobel Laureate - the first Turkish citizen to claim that prize, in fact. He's currently a humanities professor at Columbia University.

Pamuk has also been in the news quite a bit for his statements about Kurds and Armenians. Some Turkish people felt his actions were controversial and criminal proceedings ensued, turning the whole thing into a freedom of speech fiasco. There were even book burnings in Turkey. "Insulting Turkishness" is kind of a big deal. I try to stay on the right side of that dangerous invisible line.  

His books are a lesson in the conflict between Eastern and Western values. I've only read one so far: Snow, which was all about head scarves and army corruption in remote Kars. The heavy read is a long, drawn-out, unfulfilled romance which reminded me of Russian authors. Tolstoy is the first that comes to mind. I guess if you like Faulkner-type novels, this is a good one for you. I prefer more mythical, escapist reads myself. Even so, My Name is Red, is still on my TBR. The Ottoman setting sounds like something I'm going to appreciate.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

On Being a Pomegranate

Pomegranate Sugar Bowl from
What happens when you're not an apple or an orange? Fellow blogger (aka Australian expat in Greece) Jessica Bell, was contemplating "home" when I came up with the answer. Be a Pomegranate!

(I like pomegranates. Jessica said she'd be a pomegranate with me. Anyone else?)

American expats, or any expats, around the world know what I mean. Once you live someplace else, you pick up little things. Things that make people here look at you like you have three heads and ask you where you're from...because your accent isn't something anyone can place....

...because that place where you lived, that you loved, became a part of who you are. And yet, you never blended in with the locals either. You were always the "American" neighbor, wife, friend. (Check out Katie and her giant jar of Jiff peanut butter in France, or any of her other Living in France topics. Really cute stuff in there!)

To top that off, I'm a writer. Which means I live in an alternate universe, wherever I am. So Fridays from now on, I'm going to just be myself. Worry about things like comma splices, or the correct way to eat an artichoke in Damascus. (There isn't one, I don't think...) It's not going to be easy, because I always need something to write about, but I'll give it a shot and see what happens!

And here I have a spot for a little giftiness. ('Tis the season!)

I've been so busy working on the MS and blogging my little bloggery heart out and I've been a MISERABLE blog commentor. I literally haven't visited more than ten blogs in a week. Like I said, I stink. But some followers (Jules, LTM, OJ Gonzalez-Caserez, Old Kitty (& Charlie), Christopher, Golden Eagle, Hart, Carolyn V., Alesa and Ayak) are always commenting here, regardless of my lack of reciprocity. I want to give you guys a huge virtual hug for being such great blogger friends. So I'm giving you a little mwah from me:

Thanks to all my occasional commenters too, even the stalkers!

On another unrelated topic:  Remember this guy?

Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ (Kivan), of Turkish Soap Opera fame :Ask-i-Memnu, Gumus, etc....just picked up the ELLE Turkey Style Award for Best Male Actor, 2010. Congratulations to him on that!

Think I'll go have one of these:
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Thursday, December 9, 2010


Many types of baclavaImage via WikipediaLast week when we visited the Mısır Çarşı, a couple of you commented on the Baklava and wanted to know if I make it, can I make it, etc...

Here's my recipe. It's not a "Turkish" recipe. I got it from a friend who's married to a Greek guy and she got it from a neighbor up in (I don't remember where) who was from Lebanon (I think.) Who knows where it originated anyway? It's popular all over the Middle East and Mediterranean.

Start with the Syrup:

2 cups Sugar
2 cups Water
3 Tablespoons Honey

Boiled and Reduced.  Add:

1 teaspoon Vanilla
Juice of`1 Lemon

Cool and Refrigerate. Always pour COLD syrup on the hot Baklava (or whatever else you're making.)


3 1/2 cups of Walnuts
2 1/2 cups of Almonds
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutmeg

Mix it all together in the food processor until the nuts are ground pretty well. (Not too fine or it'll be paste!)

Melted Butter (1+ Sticks)
1 Package Phyllo

Butter the pan (I use a half sheet pan). Unroll the Phyllo and cover with a clean dishcloth. (The stuff dries out very quickly!) Then layer about 10 sheets of phyllo in the pan. (Always covering the unused phyllo with the cloth and thoroughly buttering between each layer). Layer of half of the nut mixture, then 10 more layers phyllo, the other half of the nuts, layer the rest of the phyllo. Cut into diagonal baklava shape BEFORE baking at 350 F for about 30 minutes, or until desired golden color develops.

Using some almonds cuts the oily nut factor of the walnuts, but you can use just walnuts if you like. Turkish Baklava is usually made with Pistachios, but the unsalted, shelled variety is expensive and not so readily available here. If I was making the pistachio kind, I'd omit the vanilla and cut the lemon in half. Alesa, who is very clearly a foodie, has even tasted one with peanuts. She advises us to pass on that one and find a more suitable way to waste a calorie! Baklava is also made in different shapes, rolls, etc... Basically, they all taste similar, depending on the filling of course.

The one rule of Baklava: Don't ask about the calories!
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lightning Slow

List of Disney's Aladdin charactersImage via WikipediaAn oxymoron: Two contradictory words put together, creating an entirely new meaning. Pretty ugly.

I feel like the extreme snail in my fish tank today. "Extreme snail?" ask. Yes, Turbanator, as we affectionately dubbed him, is lightning slow. I mean that in the most flattering way possible. He's ALL over that fish tank like white on rice. He slides up to the top and then throws himself off into the currents, skysurfing down onto the plants below. But he is a snail and no matter how fast he goes, he isn't going to be catching up to the fish anytime soon.

Why am I like him? Because no matter how fast I go, I'm not getting it all done in time. I was supposed to have the posts for this week written on Monday, which today isn't, etc...

Djinn are really fast. Like lightning fast (as opposed to the Turbanator). Some people even think they can fly. After all, how else could Genie possibly get all that stuff for Aladdin?

I wonder where I can get some of that "fast". Because short of replicating myself, I don't know how I'm going to:
  1. get all the holiday gifts purchased and wrapped
  2. arrange a birthday party for child number 1
  3. attend a DAR meeting
  4. visit my holiday parties
  5. and polish a manuscript for querying by January 1st!

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Romeo & Juliet aka Layla & Majnun

Keshan carpet, "Leila en Madschnun"Image via WikipediaFirst, I want to say I'm so PSYCHED that my blog was pulled by Turkish National Newspaper Milliyet blogger, Volkan Abur. Çok teşekkür ederim! His post is in Turkish, but it basically summarized who I am and what I write. Then it directs people to my Notable Eastern Women post on Tansu Çiller.

Makes me want to continue the series, but it's December and I promised to discuss some Western Tales with Eastern Roots.

I thought I'd start with one that many of you might already know. The classical 7th century Arabic tale of Layla & Majnun goes something like the story of Romeo & Juliet, except it's in the desert and surprisingly, it's (mostly) true.

Qays ibn al-Mulawwah was his name, but we know him as Majnun. (Remember that means crazy or possessed by djinn.) He's a poet. She's his muse and her father doesn't approve. She gets married off to some other guy. Unlike the story of Romeo & Juliet, Majnun withers away, wandering and going mad in the desert. Layla moves to another village, but dies of a broken heart. Majnun's body is found near her grave, with three last verses carved into the stone. Haunting isn't it?

Shakespeare wasn't the only that got inspired. There are countless versions in many languages. People even named a town after her in Saudi Arabia. Then there's a pretty famous guy who used Nizami's Persian epic version, verbatim, as the lyrics for a song not too long ago.

There blows no wind but wafts your scent to me,
There sings no bird but calls your name to me.
Each memory that has left its trace with me
Lingers forever as a part of me.

Sound familiar? How about if we add some guitar in the background? OK. One more clue. He sings another song about her. (Come on now...Layla)

So when a Turkish guy tells you he feels like Majnun (it's an idiom), he means he's possessed, as in madly in love with you. Stranger things have happened ;)

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas, considered by m...Image via Wikipedia
I'm really not the Grinch. I enjoy presents and pretty, sparkly decorations as much as the next girl, but here is where a lot of you say "WHAT???"

Not only is Santa dead, he was from Turkey.

Yup. St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, which is now known as Demre, which is near Kemer, which is near Antalya... in modern day Turkey. It was Hellenistic Lycia at the time he lived there.

Nicholas was the only son of a wealthy couple. His parents died when he was young. He was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara. Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 347 and thus, today is observed as a feast day for him. After his death, there was some shuffling around of his remains.  He was placed a tomb in Myra, but when the Turks took over the area in 1087, Italian sailors secreted the relics to Bari, where most of him now lies. It's what happened in between the adoption and the dying that's interesting.

The story of Saint Nick started when, as the Bishop of Myra, he helped some poor girls without dowries. He did it anonymously - leaving a bag of gold at their door in the middle of the night. Sometimes-get this- if you were poor and deserving, he dropped gold coins in shoes if you left them on the stoop. That's where the dutch tradition of leaving clogs out for Sinterklaas (the guy in the pic) to fill with a gift comes from. (More presents!) 
via Wikipedia

So what about the elves? Maybe they're the evolution of Sinterklaas's sidekick, Zwarte Piet. (Is he black from climbing in the chimneys...or because he's a black moor?).  I have no idea, but I did hear the reindeer sleigh had something to do with Artemis, and she was definitely not Turkish.

Maybe I should have a spoiler alert at the top of this post....

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Friday, December 3, 2010

The Ataturk Flower

Pointsettia 11Image via WikipediaAtaturk Çiçeği - you know it better as the red pointsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Native to South America, it now grows in Turkey and other parts of the world. Some even get as large as a small shrub. They get kind of leggy when you grow them outside, though.

Ataturk (the first president of modern Turkey) must have liked them or something, because the Turks named the plant after him. What they called it before he showed up is anyone's guess. Maybe the arabic name for it, "Bint el Konsul", meaning daughter of the Consul? Poinset (who claims the English name for the flower) was the Consul in Egypt at one time.

Most of Turkey's population is Muslim, but a lot of us (probably a majority) celebrate the New Year on January 1st with the rest of the world, exchanging gifts, etc... During the winter holiday season, many malls and homes display the pointsettia proudly. "New Year" trees are usually plastic, but I've seen some showstoppers made out of live pointsettia plants.

So there you have some interesting trivia to talk about over crudités this season!
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mısır Çarşı

SpiceMarket-MisirCarsisi-IstanbulImage via WikipediaThe Mısır Çarşı, aka Egyptian or Spice Market, of Istanbul is a great place for someone who loves to bake or cook. Since it's the season of eating (My friend Anne's definition of the holidays), I thought we'd take a tour.

The Turkish spice trade calls the market home and in days past, ships from Egypt (hence the name "Egyptian Market") and various other ports of call stopped here with their goods. Istanbul was central to the Spice Routes and the Silk Routes. When the Ottomans boycotted your country, there was no pepper for your roast, no silk for your wife's new dress. Forget about tea and coffee. Hence the Age of Exploration, Columbus and *ahem* the New World.

But back to baking...the halls of the market are full of yummy things besides spices, like teas, dried Turkish apricots and pistachios or Turkish Delight. Perfume oils and inscense are down at the end of the L shaped building and tobaccos (flavored and not) are in there somewhere too, if you need some for your pipe or Narghile.The Mısır Çarşı is much smaller than it's cousin, the Grand Bazaar, but a delight for your sense of smell you shouldn't miss.

Note: US Customs doesn't allow entry of food or'll have to eat it all in Istanbul.
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Here's a pretty good tourist video of the market. They start outside at the Eminonu market stalls, then have tea with narghile at a café and end up at the Sarnic restaurant (inside an ancient cistern). It's a decent way to spend 5 minutes in Istanbul today!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mistletoe Medicine?

I'm in a Nyquil induced haze, but I had the inspiration to write a post about the supposed benefits of taking Mistletoe. See? Even the nasty cold my kids brought home from school is serendipitous...

Anyway. Last winter we had a little snowstorm (kind of a big event here - everything shuts down) and we all bundled up and tumbled out into the backyard to play in the snow. Camera in tow, I was admiring the trees all dressed up for the event and I found something cool.  Mistletoe. My neighbor has an old oak and mistletoe grows way up in the top. (Mistletoe needs a host. It's a parasite.) The storm had knocked some down. Of course, the holidays were over, so I had no use for it, but I took a picture. (It's not supposed to touch the ground before you bring it in the house either, apparently.)

When I file stuff away like that, especially nature related stuff, it usually comes out someplace in my writing. Remember the Druids I mentioned in the post about Aliase and Ley Gates

Warning: Mistletoe is a poisonous plant!

Druids, who lived in Alaise at one point, used mistletoe in their rituals. Dressed in white robes, they harvested mistletoe with a golden sickle and sacrificed a white bull...claiming to cure infertility, as mistletoe was symbolic of a divine male essence. Their beliefs have something to do with the practice of kissing under the mistletoe even today.

"The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."  - Washington Irving

There's some speculation that mistletoe was The Golden Bough of Greek mythology too.

Mistletoe is also a supposed antidote to all kinds of other things:  cancer, barenness in animals, poison.... There are over the counter homeopathic medicines of the drug found in mistletoe, but no scientific data of its efficacy. 

Anyhoo...I was writing my first draft at the time and I needed a druidic-style djinn ritual, since we were at Alaise for the Ley Gate already...and the mistletoe literally fell out of the sky as my answer. So next time you get writer's block, take a walk. You never know what you might find!

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