• A little Meander

    January 22nd, 2013

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    I’m taking the next couple of days to explore Turkey’s fertile textile basin. Sheltered by the mountains, along the river Meander (Menderes in Turkish) I’m looking into the craft of cotton weaving. For thousands of years this place has been a rich land and the site of numerous civilizations as well the highway of marching armies. Today it’s the heartland of Turkey’s export textile industry, a magic place, warmed by geothermal waters, wreathed in fog and shot through with dazzling slanted beams of light — which can afford you a glimpse of the calm and warmth through which people navigate life here. If you’re interested in the history and the feel of this place, I highly recommend Jeremy Seal’s excellent book Meander, which charts his journey from the river’s headwaters to the Aegean — it’s equal parts entertaining travel story and compelling history. For now, here’s a glimpse of the texture and the mood in these parts:

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  • Behind the scenes at:

    December 13th, 2012

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    Yesterday I had a fantastic opportunity to go into the kitchen and bakery at Auf and see magic being made. Talk about talent. Talk about love. The heat in this kitchen wasn’t only radiating from the ovens, it was glowing from a passionate love affair with food. The people I met on Esra and Zeynep’s team were so alive, and so full of ardour for what they were doing — a philosophy graduate who would rather bake, a former English teacher who’d prefer to create — all working really long hours and pulling it off with incredible smiles. Every day the women (and man) in the kitchen create a new menu, based on seasonally available produce and ingredients which might change anywhere up to 15 minutes before the lunch crowd storms in. Yet this is not a tense environment, and I don’t think simply because there was a yabanci in the house. My sense was that Esra and Zeynep have created a remarkably democratic environment where everyone’s opinion, as well as talent, counts.

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    These guys are true, dedicated foodies. The concentration, the vigour with which prepare a meal is really inspiring. Despite having a big hairy guy pointing a camera in their face, no one missed a beat. Like many I’ve harboured a fantasy for years about owning a restaurant, but now I have a new appreciation for the type of dedication it takes. Read More…

  • The organic market & gözleme

    June 16th, 2012

    This morning we returned to the Saturday Şişli Organik Pazarı in Bomonti for the first time in a while, and I was pleased to see that it was bustling with life. Turkey is fortunate to have such a great climate for produce, and the colors of the fruit and vegetables here were like something from a Cézanne painting. Perhaps it’s been a long while since I was last here, but it seems to me that there are more producers than before. The atmosphere was great, lots of people, families, and friends we hadn’t seen in a while. There’s wasn’t only food, either, there was everything from cosmetics, to children’s toys and textiles, all 100% certified organic. There was even some homegrown talent providing live music, though I’m not sure whether or not you can certify that organic or not.

    But let’s be honest, we were there for the food, which I’m a little obsessed with lately. Delicious, fresh, crisp Turkish produce. Growing up in a cold climate, it used to be hard to appreciate fruits and vegetables. By the time they were transported to you, the taste, and probably a considerable amount of nutrition had vanished. Read More…

  • Profile: Eko Zeyno

    May 11th, 2012

    Since last summer I’ve been looking into stories about what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s downright scary about Turkey’s food supply. When you become a parent you suddenly want to educate yourself about things you’ve never thought enough about in the past. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the organic food industry and what’s holding it back when so much of the world no longer needs convincing as to its merits.

    Recently, I talked to Zeynep Çelen, the natural living (these are my terms) guest expert on Star TV’s Melek about the organic food scene and her take on what needs to be done if it’s to take root. If I were to derive a one-word response from her on the greatest obstacle to Turkey’s organic food movement, it would be: attitude.

    You’ve been quite vocal in social media countering negative opinions towards the organic foods movement. What’s the problem?

    ZÇ:  In Turkey people don’t trust new things. They’d rather pay less and know they’re eating sh-t [unhealthy food] than risk being tricked. We don’t trust that people are doing the right thing, and we suffer.

    But as I understand it, organic food is the only food that’s stringently regulated in Turkey, right?

    ZÇ: Yes, with all the scandals in milk, olive oil, honey people are beginning to understand how scary the regular system is. When non-organic food is tested, we’ve found banned chemicals. Migros has just started Iyi Tarim, a program that meets EU standards for non-organic foods. But I don’t know how stringently they test these things.

    In conventional farming — what you call artificial farming — there is always an allowed amount of pesticide on each tomato you eat. Can you believe that? In organic there is no amount of pesticide, and if or when they find a residue on organic products and cancel the certifications — the amount they find is usually less than a tenth than the allowed amount in conventional farming.

    What are your credentials? How did you get involved in this movement?

    ZÇ: I studied biology and then did a Masters in ecology. A few years ago I discovered and became involved with a group called Buğday they had a magazinewhich is now out of print—but provided materials on how to live “naturally” in Turkey. I helped them with everything, then started doing EU-funded projects getting involved with farmers and producers, helping to educate them as well as create more than just raw produce but value-added products so they can earn more money and stay viable. I was also on their committee for several years, but then I started teaching yoga.

    And your guest expert role on Melek, the TV show?

    ZÇ: They found me through a video I did on uzmantv.com which has experts giving how-to videos on everything, which Melek‘s producers watched. Then last June they emailed me. I’d almost forgotten about the video but you never know when something you do in the digital world will pop up. As with Buğday, we try to educate people about harmful choices they’re making and then give them a positive alternative. I consult with several doctors and organic producers on each topic to try and investigate beliefs get rid of the myths and then educate them on healthy alternatives.

    What’s the most important thing for the organic food movement?

    ZÇ: Consumers need to find their voice. They are incredibly powerful. But to do that we need to educate the consumer. A real tomato costs more than an artificially produced one. But despite higher labor costs it also employs more people, meaning more jobs, which is obviously a good thing. Certification is expensive, but it can be shared among producers. My philosophy is to pay more but eat a little less. I only eat out at two places because I know the quality of the ingredients they use. Prices will begin to come down as more people buy and produce organic, but the cost of a real tomato will never be as cheap as an artificial one.

    It’s interesting when you talk to farmers who have gone organic. You should go and listen to their stories. They’re so passionate. One farmer made the switch because his wife was poisoned (not fatally) by the harmful chemicals they were using—people die every year here—once they stopped using the chemicals they see the changes quickly. Now they see birds and wildlife they’ve never seen before on their land.

    What do you think? Do you trust the food you eat? Do you worry about where it comes from and what goes into it? Would you prefer to eat better food if it meant eating less? Let me know, I’m listening.

  • Accidental Patterns

    March 27th, 2012

    PYTHAGOREAN PIPES. THE TETRACTYS.

    What is it that makes something beautiful? Is it when it suggests something to you which creates a pattern in your head? Is it about achieving symmetry, or is it asymmetrical? Is it an accident or something you can create? I wonder. I’m inclined to think the most beautiful things are discovered by an accident. Is beauty created, or discovered. No matter how genius an artist or scientist is, I’m of the belief that they stumble along to find the patterns in life and highlight them. How many accidents have found happy conclusions? I think it’s when we’re forced to look at something a different way that a beautiful new truth is discovered.

    SUNLIGHT THROUGH A DERELICT FACADE IMPOSES ITS PATTERN ON ANOTHER BUILDING.

    Pythagoras, the mathematician, mystic and ‘lover of wisdom’, believed there was a pattern to nature, and is often credited with discovering musical scale. Little is truly known about the man, but still he was one of the first people in recorded history to try to demonstrate an intelligent (or perhaps intelligible?) design in nature.

    For me, beauty is something to seek, but it requires some quirk to it in order to make it interesting. The paradox for me is that symmetrical perfection isn’t perfect. But maybe that’s because the notion of symmetry and beauty are often overlapped. Perhaps this is the work of mathematicians and musicians. Nature seems mathematical, and yet is that simply us trying to impose a code we — or the mathematically inclined at least — can understand upon nature?

    THESE RUSTED OLD PIPES REMIND ME OF BROKEN PENCILS.

    I’m not sure human beings can handle perfection. Being such imperfect, immature creatures, there’s nothing for us to do with perfection but destroy it. I don’t mean that in a bleak way, I just mean that I think we’re designed to improve what we have. Perhaps it’s not even in us yet to recognize perfection.

    NOTICE HOW ‘DEMIR’ (IRON) IS FLECKED WITH RUST ON THIS SIGN. TRUTH IN ADVERTISING.

    Nobody builds something to decay, and yet the way something oxidizes often creates a new beauty. Does nature have a pattern? She certainly seems to like to eat away at anything we try to impose upon her planet. Our attempt to impose order and a pattern is invariably undone by her.

    WOULD THESE EXTINGUISHERS SAVE US FROM A FIRE? OR DO THEY NEED SAVING?

    Where I live there’s a lot of unintentional beauty. It seems to pop up in spite of what some people do, not just because of it. What do you think? What patterns do you see? Are they beautiful, mathematical, harmonious? Is there a Golden Mean? Are we observers? Are we inadvertent creators? Are we seeing what we want to see? And am I talking too much?

    Let me know. I’m listening.

  • Istanbul Culinary Institute: inspiration is being served.

    March 2nd, 2012

    MISO PRAWNS ON HUMMUS.

    There’s something about going to school that I really like these days. Perhaps because it’s because I didn’t properly appreciate the opportunities I had to learn when I was younger, but now I’m really eager to reconnect and engage with people in learning environments.One of my current favorites is the Istanbul Culinary Institute, which certifies chefs to go out into the world with all the requisite practical experience to set them on the road to becoming the next Gordon Ramsay (I just hope they are a tad less hot-headed).

    HOMEMADE CHARM: SAUCES, FRUIT COMPOSTS AND MORE TO TAKE WITH YOU.

    Personally, I admire good chefs the same way I admire good writers, painters or photographers. The talented ones are not simply making you something to eat, they’re preparing an experience that can stay with you for years. Sure it might be more fleeting, but the way we interact with and share food with each other is so integral to the enjoyment of life.

    That’s why the restaurant run by the school is one of my top choices when I’m in Beyoglu. Located just up the road from the Pera Palace it has both a daily and a seasonal menu, with interesting choices you won’t find elsewhere, like the miso infused prawns on a bed of hummus. I also had a great organic chicken soup a while back that left me with a craving for weeks. But food isn’t the only ingredient that makes this place work. There’s a wash of energy and promise here that suffuses the place. It’s an inviting place to eat, drink and try new things, while the chefs are hard at work upstairs earning their diplomas. And like the restaurant, the school really works. One of its graduates now owns and operates my favorite Yeniköy local, Molka.

    There are also weekend courses for amateur chefs who want to spice up their repertoire to impress loved ones and guests. At Istanbul Culinary Institute there’s more than one way to savor the learning experience.

    ISTANBUL CULINARY INSTITUTE
    Mesrutiyet Caddesi No 59
    Tepebasi 34437, Istanbul
    +90 212 251 2214

  • The power of the rose.

    December 19th, 2011

    JAYDA URAS SPECIALIZES IN TINCTURES, TEAS AND INDIVIDUALIZED TREATMENTS.

    Jayda Uras, owner and operator of Vie En Rose creates fully organic treatments with locally sourced ingredients produced just outside Yalova, believing that anything you put on your body should be just as pure as anything you put in it. When conventional medicine failed to provide adequate answers in her own life, she chose a different course. I sat down with her the other day to discuss her alternative brand of medicine and where her inspiration came from.

    ORGANIC HANDMADE SOAP.

    Read More…