Izmir köfte on a cold winter’s day

Izmir köfte

Izmir köfte with red pepper, dried thyme and black pepper on top – stewed peppers ,stewed tomatos and spiced lamb meatballs in a delicious light sauce (Image by Liz Cameron)

Snow crazy! That’s what those puppets are.  They are afraid to venture out into the 60+ inches of snow we have seen in the past month.  For little puppets made of camel hide colored with vegetable dyes, I suppose the snow makes them a bit nervous. And just as the parents of young children run out of things to do on snow days here in the Northeastern part of the United States during snow season, so too do I run out of things for the Karagöz puppets to engage in during these long and chilly days and nights.  So, we have turned to cooking.

Specifically, I sent the puppets off into M.’s ears to get him cooking.  A fine cook he is, when it comes to Turkish food, but rarely does he break out his talents.  I thought that perhaps those puppets could secretly inhabit his head (or whisper ideas in his ears at night) so that he could make our house fragrant with the smells of home.  And for months, they have been engaging in this nighttime whispering – until he was primed and ready to accept my offer of switching off on cooking duty now that M’lady is back to work.  He accepted galantly and gladly, and for this I know I should be truly grateful.

And so it was, that during yesterday afternoon’s snow day, Izmir köfte came to be in our humble kitchen.  M. made the dish from his culinary memory – hazy with images of his Anne (mother) and Babane (grandmother) shuffling about the kitchen.  He substituted ground lamb for much of the ground beef – as it is so hard to find fatty ground beef in this country…the result was fabulous.  We also eliminated the potato element as our doctor has advised us to cut down on carbohydrates (which, while blasphemous to the ears of a Turk, has been embraced in this Turkish-American home).

For a traditional approach to Izmir köfte, you can visit Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook for a recipe, or you can go over to A Seasonal Cook in Turkey for another great approach to this dish.

Afiyet olsun!

Izmir Köfte pre-cooking

A casserole of carb-free Izmir köfte before heading into the oven (Image by Liz Cameron)




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Karagöz irons on my head: Online teaching with the puppets breathing down my neck

Karagöz has been “ironing my head” lately – read on to learn about this Turkish proverb (Image from https://fashionbeautyandstyle.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/beauty-review-ghd-eclipse/)

These days, the Karagöz puppets have been spending a lot of time in the classroom with me – more time than ever given that I am teaching an online class for the first time.

The puppets sit on the top of the couch behind me, as I sift through reams and reams of e-paper responses to discussion questions from my students.  For years, I have lamented the fact that it is so hard to get my students to speak up in class – or do their readings, for that matter.  Nowadays, they are talking my ear off and really thinking analytically.  Which is wonderful, but time-consuming when responding to each one with a cogent and hopefully thought-provoking response!   If this were my only task with my students, reading their work would make me happy…but let me tell you what is going on.

Now think about the last time someone talked you ragged, so to speak.  Not only am I being talked ragged by my students in terms of substance – the puppets are swinging their legs up on the couch behind me, commenting all the way on the lackadaisical nature of students’ approach to the writing of these responses.

“Can’t she find a dictionary?” Says Kenne the Queen of Manners (and of grammatical correctness, apparently)

“Since when are its and it’s the same thing!” Celebi, the modern lover laments.

“What is this text language doing in formal writing – R U Kiddin’ me LOLz?” Karagöz cackles from the side…if only the puppets would focus on the wonderful content of my students’ comments, and not on the bad spelling, grammar or use of text messaging language.

And that brings me to this “ironing on my head business.” Kafa ütülemek: It means “to talk too much for too long and bore someone”. It literally translates as “to iron someones head”. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?  Well, it perfectly describes how I feel about this aspect of online teaching.


What about you – what do you think about the concept of online teaching?

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The puppets celebrate a wedding on the Georgian border


An impromptu wedding celebration dance at the Georgian border (Image by Liz Cameron)

The Karagöz puppets are all a-twitter about the upcoming Valentine’s day celebration.  Between valentine-making parties and the preparation of sweets, you can imagine that they haven’t been thinking much about blogging.

So this morning, I asked them to tell me a story about the best of love, something I could write a blog post about.  And of course, the puppets immediately reminded me of a special experience we had on the Georgian border a few months ago.


It looks as if the road just drops off into the steep valley here at the Turkish-Georgian border (Image by Liz Cameron)

As they recalled, the puppets were a bit carsick after driving through the high-up switchback roads in the mountains on the Georgian-Turkish boarder…you can see one such road here.

It was no wonder they were so quiet and relatively unwilling to get out of the car at the end of the road – even if there was a lovely green park to explore.  I had to drag them along with me through the woods, their clothes got a little muddy as a result.

But what happened next really took all of our breath away.


The young couple, off for a bit of exploring just after their wedding (Image by Liz Cameron)

Upon emerging from the woods after a short walk from the parking lot, we saw a young couple in their wedding clothes, ambling hand in hand by the side of a pristine mountainside lake.

But what was even more wonderful than that, was the fact that this couple in the blush of new love was being serenaded by a Turkish piper who just happened to be up at the lake with some of his buddies.


The tulum player from Artvin seemed comfortable in his skin (Image by Liz Cameron)

Animated and full of hot air for the pipes, the piper played a range of Turkish folk tunes leaning towards the political (he was from Artvin, a well-known hotbed of leftists, as M. relayed to me).  M. translated some of the lyrics – which were clearly Gezi Park-inspired and anti-establishment in tune.  Nobody seemed to mind much.

Turks from the Black Sea region call this the guda in the Laz language, or the tulum in Turkish.  You can read more about the tulum here.  With a blow pipe on top and chanters on the bottom, the Tulum looks and sounds much like a modern-day bagpipe. Made from sheep or goat hide, it is allegedly commonly treated with nothing more than salt. And, although we did not witness this, according to tradition, a shot glass full of Raki, a homemade Turkish brandy of high alcohol content, is poured inside the Tulum after use. Its antiseptic qualities helps prevent the spread of bacteria and even prevents the pipes from rotting.

We were soon enveloped in a circle of dancers.  We presumed they were members of the wedding party but soon found out that this was just a motley crew of visitors to the lake all keen on celebrating the newly-married husband and wife.


Teyze supervises the tulum player on the Georgian border (Image by Liz Cameron)

From the teyze (auntie) replete in her flowered pants and headscarf to the economics student from Istanbul and her friend from Denmark, nobody seemed out of place.  And while I am two left feet-personified in the dance department, nobody cared, and everyone just launched into the celebration of life and hope.







Posted in Puppets on the move around the world, Turkish destinations, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment