We try to be normal. We really do. But every straight line we draw canters just a little to the side–and so, in travel (as in everything else), our lives run a little diagonally.
This truth was on full display a few years ago in Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg:
The thing for Americans to do here, besides wander and take in the beauty, is to stage photos that resemble scenes from The Sound of Music. (The song, Do Re Mi was partly filmed here.) Ideally, these photos look a little like this:
This is the top gate at Mirabell. (Notice the fortress, Hohensalzburg, on the hill in the background–it’s really a fantastic shot of the gardens and the city behind.) We spent some time here. We took some photos here. But none looked like this.
What did they look like? Well, look to your right. This is my son, sleeping (while being serenaded by an accordion player) on those same steps at the Mirabell Gardens. Why is he sleeping, you ask? He’s tired from sightseeing, but especially from running through the gardens. Singing Do-Re-Mi? Oh no. No. This child was reinacting some “American Ninja in Salzburg” screenplay known only to him. My favorite scene from that movie, below. (Clearly the people around him are a little surprised and amused by the sight.)
I’ve been thinking about our quirky travels this past weekend while in Chicago with my daughter. In another year, she’ll be heading off to college. And my son, the masked ninja, begins high school in August. They’ve grown up fast, and our travel adventures with them are changing. I already miss the visits to “knight schools” and castles, the nativity plays we attended with dishtowels on their heads, and their absolute inability to stand still for photos.
Ein Konig und ein Hirte– a wise king and a shepherd at Ripon Cathedral some years ago (2008?)
Still, I imagine our “diagonal” travels will continue into the future. After all, they started before our children were born. In Turkey, we were just two people with little dog garnering stares as we drove by in an old Volvo wagon. On it’s own, that doesn’t sound so strange, but we stuck out like a sore thumb. In Turkey, it wasn’t unusual to count 7 people on a motorcycle and sidecar. So when we made our way through the streets– streets that might find two lanes stuffed with five “lanes,” including cars, giant trucks, mopeds, buses, and donkeys– our long wagon, carrying only two people and a tiny dog, was the thing outside of the norm. Why waste such a long vehicle on so few travelers? Why bother with a dog too small to herd sheep? And why crawl slowly through the melee of a Turkish traffic jam instead of throwing yourself into the mix full throttle while laying on the horn? Clearly, we were the nuts who didn’t understand the rules of the game.
When you travel, people always tell you to try to fit in– obey the customs, don’t be too awkward or too obvious. It’s safer and more respectful to conform to the norm as best you can.
They tell us to try to fit in, but who does that, honestly?
Sometimes you just have to embrace the diagonal. What else can you do?
I woke this Saturday morning to find that Epicurious.com had left a delicious morsel in my news feed: a short article by Sam Worley,
Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores
What? Is this possible? You know I have a thing for stretchy Turkish ice cream– if you were paying attention, I sang its praises last fall in a blog post called “How We Eat . . .”. You can imagine Mr. Sam Worley’s article quickened my pulse more than a little. It has arrived on my shores! Turkish Dondurma! I squealed, I celebrated!
But then I wondered. Can I eat Turkish dondurma from the local grocery aisle, or would it be wrong, and certainly disappointing, to pull it from my upright freezer in my air conditioned Floridian home and eat it with a spoon and dish in my breakfast nook? Would it betray every memory I have of sassy dondurma sellers in Istanbul or on the Turkish Mediterranean, paddling out the stretchy treat, only to whip it out of your grasp at the last moment. . . only to finally relent and offer up the treat, which I would greedily gobble before it (or I) melted into the hot walkway of a Turkish summer day.
Would my favorite sweet Turkish treat suffer if it wasn’t fresh, and if everything about its presentation and circumstances was decidedly un-Turkish? Decidedly mundane. Bought at the local grocer.
Yes. I think the answer has to be “yes.”
Still, you know I’ll look for it in the stores. Maybe I’ll purchase some. I hope it will be delicious. It’ll certainly be a treat and a novelty . . . but scooped from a store carton it will be an anemic facsimile.
I’d rather enjoy it by the Sea of Marmara or the Mediterranean– who wouldn’t?
I’ll leave you with the blurb from Epicurious (which includes a fantastic video of an impish Turkish ice cream man at work), as well as my original post on Turkish ice cream.
Happy Monday and bon appetit– or, as they say in Turkey, “Afiyet Olsun!”
We can’t wait to try the famously elastic dessert.
Behold the pictures, all over the internet, of street vendors stretching Turkish ice cream just like it’s boardwalk taffy. That’s maraş dondurma, a confection made not just with milk and sugar but with mastic, a tree resin, and salep, the roots of wild mountain orchids, which imparts elasticity. The best and frankly only way to describe this is as stretchy, chewy ice cream. Word on the street is that people have been photographed jumping rope with it; others have cut it with knives and chainsaws. On the street, too—or in the markets, rather, where you get this ice cream in Istanbul—its unique stretchiness enables vendors to play all manner of practical jokes with would-be ice cream eaters, as in the video below.
The metal rod you see there is part of the traditional production process: the ice cream is beaten—kneaded, more or less—so that it sticks to itself. What results is a frozen confectionyou can do some tricks with; it’s also quite a bit slower to melt than non-elastic ice cream, a boon in the Turkish summers.
Something like dondurma is now available in the U.S., but in grocery aisles rather than bazaars. Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream, which has been selling in the New York area for a while, announced today that it’s expanding its distribution throughout the northeastern United States, with four flagship flavors: Chios vanilla, made with a Greek tree sap; chocolate–orange blossom; spiced date, and tart cherry. Lezzetli bills its ice creams as inspired by similar desserts of Turkey and the Levant—versions of dondurma also exist in places like Syria and Greece—and they aren’t thickened with orchids, which are endangered, but with other natural gums. (In Turkey, for this same reason, salep has given way to other thickeners, like guar gum.) Not in your local place yet? Request it! Your grocer might be pliable.
How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream
The title is a mouthful: a delicious, caloric mouthful. Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house. An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily. Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right? Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say. Anyhoo, on with the post. . .
When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.’” Silly. I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem. Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure. Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right. Which brings me to stretchy ice cream. What, you’ll ask, is that? A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid? An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream? No and no. I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).
Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors. My favorite was banana.
I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy. That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick. Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment. The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?
I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately. August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me. But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children. A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip. Ugh. A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.
My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too. I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post. It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).
Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding. Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens. Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one. (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream. I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)
Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table. Why is it Southern? I have no idea. It goes well with bourbon? (There are worse theories.) If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read. If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.
But not before you consider Banoffee Pie. It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits. A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.
“Banoffee” you say? Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee. BAN. OFFEE.
Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie). No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times. Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe. There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries. If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.
I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe. If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!
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I’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food. On how we eat. I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family. But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go. Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.
This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast. The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.
*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING
For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens. Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish). Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
It was a crisp day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and my husband and I were out walking through the town of Guzelyurt– a small town set outside of the larger and more tourist-populated areas of Cappadocia. (“Guzelyurt” means beautiful valley.)
We would often visit and stay in Otel Karballa there: a lovely structure that
Otel Karballa, Guzelyurt
had once been a Greek monastery, but was now converted to a small hotel with a fantastic chef and the ability to give its guests an authentic taste of life and history in this enchanting region.
This area of Turkey is fascinating– so well known for its natural beauty and unusual landscape, as well as its long and illustrious history. In fact, the two things go hand in hand. The famous “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia housed the cave dwellers of the Bronze Age, and later housed early Christian refugees and gave rise to the thousands of cave churches that dot the region.
Once inside these churches, you are often met with once-beautiful frescoes that (while still beautiful) are severely weathered by both age and ordeal. Age, because most of the churches here date to between the 6th and 11th centuries; ordeal, as they were intentionally defaced because of religious aniconic sentiments.
If the cave dwellings and the colorful history weren’t enough to make Cappadocia a fantastic destination, it has this going for it: it’s no artifact, it’s still living. The potteries of the region are thriving, the people are hospitable, and many locals still live in the hollowed out cave dwellings (and have wired them for electricity!).
Walking down one ancient road in Guzelyurt, you might look up to see this:
only to believe that you are passing by empty, ancient buildings (but note the electrical wires that run the length of the road). Then the next thing you stumble upon, two doors down, is the family from the lead photo on this post, huddled in the doorway of another ancient structure and adjoining cave and making their daily flatbread over a simple fire and dome of hot metal.
The ancient meets the everyday in the streets and valleys of Cappadocia, the modern meets the miraculous. For my husband and me, who grew up in the tidy convenience of suburban America and were more likely to take dinner from a casserole dish hot out of a Kenmore oven, or even from a drive-through fast food window, this family, hard at work to make their daily bread, kneaded and rolled on a board on the ground and cooked over an open fire on a humble metal dome, this moment was extraordinary. And so very ordinary too.
We stopped and spoke to the family. We shared what little language we knew, and they shared some of their bread , warm and crisp from the fire. I don’t think anything has ever been more delicious than those few bites shared on an ancient road. What an incredible way to eat local.
My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. By anyone’s standards, 24 years is a good chunk of change. It’s been two decades of perpetual motion, so it’s no wonder that I find myself reflecting on it this week in a blog named “Travels and Tomes.”
For all of the enthusiasm I have for the next few decades together, and all of the certainty that they will involve “settling down” soon, I look back over our past adventures and our many homes and travels and I think what a long, strange, and utterly remarkable trip it’s been.
Here’s the two cent version of that trip.
CONNECTICUT: This predates the 24–it’s where we met in school. Spring and autumn in New England were glorious; winter was long but happily punctuated by sledding on cafeteria trays. We hung out in coffee houses, bought cheap theater tickets at the Rep, frequented the Brew and View pub in the next town, and made the occasional trip via commuter train into NYC (where we splurged for a Broadway show once or twice, but usually used our pocket change to visit the Met Museum or Museum of Modern Art, or stroll Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas). We drove out to Cape Cod. It was a great start, tinged with a little wanderlust.
Our next stop was CHICAGO. These were our salad and frozen pizza days. We lived in three different apartments over 3 years and each one smacked of “Barefoot in the Park” in its own way. (Great play, and great movie with Redford and Fonda, if you haven’t seen it.) The first was at a fine address in the Gold Coast, but it was, literally, a closet. Literally. It was a temporary do.
The second was a coach house over a garage in the DePaul area. Charming. Until winter came, and we realized that there was no insulation. . . anywhere. Not in the walls, not in the roofing, and not under the floor. Cranking the heat did nothing but fill the apartment with gas fumes and heat the air in the middle of the room (as in, three feet up from the floor, three feet down from the ceiling, and three feet in from the walls). So when the owners raised rent, we went packing for warmer (and cheaper) digs.
Which we found in our third apartment, just north of Wrigley Field (home to the Chicago Cubs). We had a scant view of the top of Wrigley Field in the distance from our South-facing window, and an up close and personal view of a transient hotel across the street in our front windows…where we also had one bullet hole. During our stay, no more bullets flew, but our neighbors at the hotel regularly pulled their fire alarms at 3 a.m. (followed by a brigade of firetrucks), and on the rare occasion took firefighting into their own hands and threw flaming matresses out their windows. It was like having a front row seat at the theater each night.
In the winter this last apartment kept us warm, although ice crystals would obscure our view out the windows. In the summer, we would broil and spend our evenings walking through the grocery store and opening the doors on the freezer aisle, postponing the inevitable return home. Weekends found us wandering the boroughs of the city, eating in cafes and people watching–cheap entertainment, but always a good time. Each weekend, we’d walk a different neighborhood: German, Lebanese, Czech/Slovak, etc. We had no idea this would be good practice for the life of travels that was to come.
DC: A fast turn around — we lived there one year. Loved the city, hated the traffic. Great food, lots of culture, but far too much talk of politics. Some weekends, we’d storm the city for ethnic markets and museums, other weekends, we’d escape to places like Chesapeake, the Shenandoah river, or the Chincoteague shore–sand dunes, ocean tides, and wild horses. . . paradise.
TEXAS: Our Texas roundup:
Steak–never liked it until I lived here. A revelation.
Tex-Mex– again, no one does it like Texas.
Tumbleweed and Mesquite– lots and lots of tumbleweed and mesquite.
Our time in Texas wasn’t marked by a wanderlust or cultural broadening–it was more of “going deep” into a down home experience of that region. It was different, but it was delightful. And we left town with a secret recipe for salsa from our restaurateur friends Ted and Lena– a priceless gift.
TURKEY: Culture shock after moving from west Texas to the mediterranean coast of Turkey, but absolute love after that. If you’ve ever wanted to time travel, rural Turkey is the closest you’ll come. Hop on a mountain bike and take off through the fields of sheep and shepherds, or explore ruins of ancient cities on the coastline with only goats for company, and you’ll know what I mean. And the people of Turkey are the most hospitable people I have ever met.
In lots of ways, Turkey is where life “got real” for us. We hit incredible highs; we hit incredible lows. This is one way living abroad differs from simple travel–you’re not just there to see the sights, you are getting on with the business of living a life. In Turkey, we saw amazing sights: the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia and homes hollowed out of these natural structures; old frescoed cave churches, in disrepair, but still dotting the landscape in remarkable numbers. We also endured some tough times: a miscarriage and a strong earthquake that crippled much of the surrounding town and tumbled houses in the older section of the city (which was very old indeed), leaving people homeless. But life cycles back to joy, always: our daughter was born in our final six months there, and our family began its travels together. Have dog, have kid, will travel–that’s been our motto ever since.
NORTH CAROLINA: Our return to my home state for 5 years didn’t involve a lot of travel, except to see grandparents in a nearby town. No, these were the days of total immersion in young parenthood. Puppies and children–we were dripping with them. Our daughter was six months old when we returned to NC, and our son was born a couple of years later. Both of our children were born at lightening speed. (I did make it to the hospital for my second, but didn’t make it into the hospital gown before he was born. I remember nurses RUNNING me down the hall on a gurney, shouting “don’t push, don’t push!”–but there comes a point when you really have no choice. . . just trust me on this one, men.) And so my husband insisted there would be no third child unless I was willing to move into the hospital at 8 months pregnant. He had no intention of delivering a baby on our kitchen floor. He had a point. No more babies. But we did adopt our sweet puppy Bebe in NC, and she was my furry baby for 15 years.
But, as I said, few travels of the suitcase variety. Loads of adventures in pumpkin patches and parks, on sleds and tricycles, etc. That’s how it goes with toddlers.
Oh, England. I love this place. For me, it combines new and exciting travels with the comfort of a culture that you understand intimately. It’s also the setting for so many childhood memories for my kids: dress up at the knights
school at Alnwick Castle (also home to many scenes from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey), being pulled onstage during theater productions of The Tempest and Robin Hood Tales, winning a contest for decorating the Queen’s Knickers (on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday), visiting with Santa at the local brewery . . . the list is too long. Every day that we walked into the market square of Ripon (pretty much every day!) was a treat for us. It was home, but it never seemed mundane.
As a home base, Yorkshire, England was a great jumping off point for Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy. We traveled by plane, we traveled by train, we traveled by car. We traveled. I had no blog then, so instead of posting travel notes and quips, I did send postcards from the road. That seems a little quaint and slow now, but there’s something solid and permanent about the postcard, isn’t there? It doesn’t say much, but it’s a tangible artifact of your travels . . .and it has the magical ability to fall out of a scrapbook decades from now and catch you by surprise with a flood of memories of a place and a time, of a holiday greatly enjoyed. I wonder if blogsites will age as well?
We’re traveling back to England very soon, and to some of our old stomping grounds in Yorkshire. It will be an absolute delight to walk the streets of Ripon, eat the scones of Ripon (!), and wander the dales of the surrounding countryside . . .but I think that it will be a little bittersweet too. We all have a soft spot for our old life there.
From this chilly scene in England
To a sunny backyard in Georgia
From England, we found ourselves venturing on to GEORGIA and ALABAMA. These states are next door neighbors, each with its own personality–please don’t take offense that I am lumping them together, but the truth is that this post is getting long-winded, so I’m picking up the pace. Do you know what struck me most dramatically about the South in our first weeks back? Tree frogs and cicadas! The sounds from the trees, especially at dusk each night, is fantastic. For me, it’s the sound of summertime and my childhood in North Carolina. About the time when you’d be out playing kick the can with the kids in the neighborhood, or with cousins at your grandmother’s house, the trees would come alive. You get used to the sound, you take it for granted, but once you’ve gone without for years, you really hear it again and it’s like a symphony. Give me a screened porch, a cold drink, a hot day, and tree frogs at dusk, and I am a happy girl.
And now we are wrapping up our sojourn in GERMANY. Time has flown way too quickly. There is no sense in listing out our recent travels here–you’ve seen many of them posted in this blogspace, and it will take me the next year or more to continue catching you up on the places, people, language struggles, and food (and how!), but I’ll do my best.
If these posts won’t have that magical ability to slip, pop, or leap out from a scrapbook at me in my dotage, reminding me of continents I traveled and tales I told, they do have another astonishing talent–sharing my thoughts and travels far and wide with friends I rarely see, and even some new friends I’ve never met. It’s like telling tales around a campfire that is surrounded with so many people–some out on the dark edges, beyond the glow, beyond my ability to know who is even out there.
This is the place where any self-respecting postcard would say “Wish You Were Here!” but it feels to me like you are.
Thanks for reading, and, if it’s not too much to ask, how about raising a glass for my husband and me– to another 24 years of adventures, big and small.