I wrote a cookbook called Aegean Recipes. It took more than 4 months just to complete it.
However it actually the result of living in US for the last 10 years. When I moved to Oregon, I had to look for similar ingredients ( for a long time ) that I used to cook back in Turkey. Many vegetables were different here. Just because I changed where I lived, I did not exactly changed my taste bud. I still like eating and cooking spicy stew, delicious “börek” filo dough pastries, tasty “sarma” stuffed grape leaves, or making lots of green salads with olive oil.
Surely I developed taste for other foods and drinks such as; drinking Hazelnut flavor coffee, which simply did not exist in Turkey, or craving for a fish Burrito (I could not even imagine so ) but core is the same; I love Aegean dishes! I still eat cheese, bread and olives for breakfast. Apparently it is not that common for an American breakfast. I cook Turkish food for lunch and dinners , to be more precise, Aegean style meals. Somethings changes over the time, but certain things like your habits, food taste takes much longer time to change. And some stays the same. I do like eating Burrito, Miso soup or Clam Chowder but would I cook these dishes? Nah, not really. I would go eat at the restaurant. I would not bother with even trying. The fact that I love Aegean style light dishes, even though I like eating other foods I would cook more Aegean dishes at home. I guess mainly for two reason. For one, I am good at it. Secondly I like eating these, I am used to it, I grow up with it. I am a true Izmirian, an Aegean person, wherever I am, I still carry my essence.
I was not planning whatsoever to write any cooking book . I have never even imagine so. Why would I do that? I cook to eat. I had no reason to write about it. Until I started to puzzle with my memories. I am a hard working person. I always have project to do. I also travel between continents. I visited Turkey once a year for the last 10 years, sometimes twice a year. While I was there mom cooked for me. I simply sat in the kitchen watching her cook and chatting with her. She was the main reason I kept going back to Turkey, just to see her. Just to be together with her. Even though I did business there too, but that was always secondary for me. My goal was to spend good time with mom. I was very fond of her. Odd I was not even aware of this in a conscious level.
I learned cooking from my mom. She taught me to cook delicious Aegean dishes. She was an excellent cook. Am I as good as her? Are you kidding? Would I even dare to say that? No way…
Mom’s are always better. Just like grandma’s baklava’s is always the best! Grandma I must confess, I loved eating your balava, even more than my mom’s! Mom yours was great too, but sorry I have to give her a credit too. I hope you will forgive me where ever you are. Coming from a family of women who are great cooks, kind of puts pressure on you. You have to be good, or you had to have a darn good excuse not to bother with cooking. Well sort of I had. I went to university for about 8 years. Long years I assume. I was always studying lesson, reading, researching ( talk about busy philosophy student ) all sort of things. So I could stay away from kitchen.
But in real life unless you are rich, ( maybe you can have a maid or cook at home ) you have to cook. In my 30’s I have travelled a lot ( being a tour guide ), so I did not have much time to cook except some simple, practical dishes. When I moved US, I had more time ( nice to be freelancer ), then I was cooking again. I was fond of slow cook in olive oil. These dishes always taste so good. It is not really my style rush and eat. I am opposed to fast food concept. You can be practical, but cooking fast, eating so fast; it’s not something I can get used to it. I think that is very related to be an American. I see little kids walking, even running with a drink ( Coke, juice or whatever ) in their hand without even spilling. That is beyond me. I guess true Portlanders are the ones who are glued to their paper / metal coffee cups. I just do not have that talent. Yes, I am a hyperactive person, but if I am eating or drinking, I simply sit down, rather than shove it in my mouth.
Over the years I learned where to get similar ingredients (Aegean style thin yellowish green Cubenelle peppers, Mexican fat zucchinis, etc. ) How to substitute one for another, how to change cooking time for certain dishes. I am an accidental vegetarian as Rob puts it, which means I eat meat occasionally, at the restaurant, at friends houses, however I do not cook it. Being a traveler you do not have a luxury of being a picky eater. I take photos everywhere. In remote places, there is not much alternative, whatever you find in the restaurant, you eat. At home though I cook Izmirian dishes, as I enjoy the flavor.
I was still cooking the way Aegean people cook. Lots of olive oil, many greens, light desserts. Sometimes my memory was playing tricks on me, or rather say I was not remembering clearly how I supposed to cook a certain dish. Then I was calling mom to ask what was the correct ingredient or how I had cook. Mom guided me wherever I was until 2010.
She passed away at the age of 70 in Izmir. I can not even describe how sad I was. How lost I felt, how lonely I suddenly was. I was away from my mom for about 10.000km. I have been living away from her more than 10 years, but never even once I felt disconnected. She was there at her home. She was there whenever I called her. We did not have to be in same continent even. She was always in my heart, in my mind.
When I lost her I promised myself that I was going to write a book for her. I had to dedicate a book to her. I had to that before her next birthday. I was going to keep my promise. I though if she was alive that would make her happy.
Then I had to think about what book I could possibly write to dedicate her? Not something philosophical, not some humorous travel stories. But what really? What was the common thread between us? She crochet, knit wonderfully, I did not. She was a great seamstress I was not. She was way too clean and organized, which I did not find anything to write about. I wanted to write something was common between us beside being stubborn. Then I realized, cooking! Mom was wonderful cook. I loved cooking too. That was it. That I could write about. That also would help me to remember her recipes. Since I could not call her and for direction anymore.
At first I said myself “peh that is easy. It is cookbook. It is not a big deal at all”, I was minimizing the effort.
How wrong I was. First of all, it was quite difficult converting all these recipes metric to American standard. It was not easy at all to describe the directions. I end up trying every single dish with US cooking measurement cups, spoon sets and timing them… The book taught me how to understand from grandma style generation after generation cooking style to descriptive correct measurement differences. This book result of a lot of frustrations and crying. I mean anyone can cry when peeling and chopping onion, try to cry when you are cooking rice or making “aşure”? A bit strange to cry over a dessert. Well, the book full of her recipes, each contains millions of memories, smiles, and the sweet aroma of her cooking. That made me cry, that made me feel loved. I just wanted to share these with people who enjoy cooking. If love is not shared, can we say true love? Love grows if offers happiness to others.
I love you mom, this is for you.
I kept my promise.
Your daughter Nur