A Winter in Review (2015)

As those of you who’ve been with me for a while already know, these last few months have constituted my first winter in Turkey!  I was very excited to see what the cold months were like (since my previous Turkey experience had been a summer trip in 2011).  Now that the temperatures are suitably warm (mid 70s/low 80s) I feel that it is an appropriate time to summarize my thoughts on winters in Turkey.

Let me start by saying… Winter isn’t very Turkish in my opinion.

Uh, how can a country be anything other than what it is?

Well,  like I said before… My first (and at the time, only) experience in Turkey before had been during the summer.  For that reason,  Turkey translated to:
The smell of the ocean
Watermelon and white cheese
Late nights spent with family/friends
Picnics and day trips
Midye and mangal
Windows and balcony doors open wide
Snatching figs off trees when no one is looking

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And of course, none of these things happen during the winter.  It’s simply too cold.  I couldn’t even pick up the ocean smell from the window until the weather warmed up recently.  However, there are other winter things that are unique to Turkey. Honestly, it’s kind of a mixed bag.

First off, here in Izmir, we only saw a flurry of snow twice.  Nothing that lasted longer than five minutes though.  Sure,  it snowed in the mountains and stuff, but nothing I was able to enjoy.  It’s kind of ironic, actually.  The thing I love most about Turkish summers (a lack of rain), translates to a lack of something I would have liked to see (snow).

But even without the snow,  it got pretty chilly!  With a lack of central heating,  we were limited to the soba (coal furnace).  I’m pretty sure I shared that with you guys earlier.  While the toasty warm room was a delight, the freeze-your-buns-off temperature in the rest of the house (including our bedroom and the bathroom) made daily life a bit uncomfortable. Hello two layers of long-johns under sweatpants.  We didn’t go anywhere or do much of anything because it was so cold (and my in laws kept getting sick). It’s just not the season for activity.

Eating new things was fun! I enjoyed roasting chestnuts on the top of the soba.  Greens like spinach and roots like celeriac were plentiful and I enjoy them immensely.  But there’s nothing that compares to summer foods like roasted eggplant and fresh green beans…

So… I think it’s fair to say that winter is not my favorite season (but it never was, anyway).  It’s nice to not sweat your brains out, but you miss out on so many fun things when the weather is too cold!

Helloooo spring/summer!! I’m ready for you!

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The Candid Truth About Farmers’ Markets

Disclaimer: I have a bias for farmers’ markets.  This bias may come out in the following report. 😉

Do you like sleeping in?  Do you like the convenience of having all produce available nearly all year round?  Do you like eating bland, overpriced veggies and fruits?

Then farmers’ markets are not for you!

 Keep reading to get the truth (as I see it) about farmers’ markets!

What I love about farmers’ markets (i.e., pros 🙂 )

1.  You meet the farmer:  I love that I get to meet the person who put their blood, sweat, and tears into the earth.  I hold farmers in very high regard- and being able to meet them face to face to say thank you is always a bonus!  Plus you get to develop a bond with the people that feed you!

2.  It’s usually cheaper:  Of course, this isn’t always the case.  But let me give you an example of the white eggplant, to which I always sing lyrical praise. At the grocery store in Florida, one white eggplant can cost upwards of $7…but at the farmers’ market, I can purchase six white eggplants for $6.

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3.  The quality can be better:  For example- the best okra to buy shouldn’t be much longer than your thumb (see right- but this one is pushing it a little).  Once they get long and big, they are meant to be planted.  I have never seen a small okra in the grocery store.

4.  Greater variety:  I keep coming back to eggplants because I am a die-hard fan…but at the grocery store you can find the typical purple eggplant, and on occasion white or graffiti eggplants…but at the farmers’ market?  Just today I saw purple eggplant, white eggplant, graffiti eggplant, black eggplant (the tops are black instead of green), japanese eggplant, globe eggplant, and whatever you call the itty bitty graffiti looking eggplants… I often see more melon varieties and pepper varieties as well.

5.  Negotiating/ haggling:  Try walking into a grocery store and saying ” you know, I’m buying four squash… you should give me a dollar off this bag of tomatoes, don’t you think?” or “how about we make these peppers 2 pints for 3$ instead of 2$ a piece?”  Yeah, they are going to think you are nuts.  Crazy at register 7!  But at a farmers’ market no one will bat an eye at your effort to get the best deal.  Even better, if you follow number 1 you can build a report that results in a few extra goodies ending up in your bag!

6. Supporting small, local business:  Before reaching for organic (which I have my own opinions on…) I will reach for local.   Besides being morally good for the community, supporting local business means more money coming into the city,  less transit for the product, and for produce- more time on the vine.  I can’t stress enough the importance of supporting your local farmers.   In Turkey, this is the norm…but in America, we have so industrialized our agriculture that local small farms have a hard time keeping up.  There’s definitely a place for both, but don’t forget your local farmers’ market!

What I hate about farmers’ markets (i.e., cons 😦 )

1. The inconvenience of seasonality:  While seasonality is GREAT when what you like is, you know, in season… some seasons are pretty sparse on options.  During the entire winter we didn’t go to the farmers’ market, because there wasn’t much to offer (in the way of products we like).

2.  Things go bad:  Because produce is picked as late as possible in farmers’ markets, sometimes you will find something has gone bad. Then you get pretty bummed!  At grocery stores, you can hand pick each thing you want- but usually at farmers’ markets you get whatever is in the pint basket… good or bad.

3.  Nature happens:  Because a lot of the farmers’ market farmers don’t use the same heavy duty pesticides (or are just organic), you may find…nature…in your produce.  For example, after washing a small cucumber the other day, hubby bit into it to find a worm.  Don’t worry, it was a whole worm. But still… icky.  Most of us find ways of dealing with this eventuality, but it sure does stink when it happens.

CAM008824.  Cleaning:  Unlike a grocery store, there is no team of employees whose job it is to scrub your carrots before they hit the shelves.  Also,  small scale farms don’t usually have flume systems and other large scale cleaning methods pre-packaging.  You are going to have to trim those stems, scrub that dirt, rinse that skin… another example, today I spent nearly 20 minutes scrubbing and trimming the radishes I bought.   They started out nearly black- but aren’t they lovely now (see left)? 🙂  If you aren’t willing to take the time to do the processing that you pay for at the store, then you won’t like farmers’ markets.

Despite my bias, I think this report is very fair.  Farmers’ markets were always a joke to me growing up in the US.  When I went to Turkey, however, I saw their potential….and our local farmers’ market is nothing to sniff at.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to support my local businesses and enjoy the produce that comes from the same soil that I walk on every day.   Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market is always a joy!

Do you go to your local farmers’ market?  Do you think something should be added to this list?