welcome lenten season

lent has been an important season for me since my childhood. although i was not raised in one particular religion, the notion of spirituality, especially in terms of the idea of a shared humanity and mutual love and respect for all beings, has always resonated with me.  

and, as such, the lenten tradition of sacrifice as a way towards greater understanding of the needs and challenges of other humans has always appealed to the highly sensitive person in me. 

in our household lent was a time (as was ramazan actually), in which we were encouraged to recognize and celebrate our basic comforts and privileges.  the sacrifices that came along with these seasons were meant to encourage us to be grateful for our own lives and empathetic towards those of others. 

over the years, i have given up many things for lent- candy, chocolate, junk food, fizzy drinks, hard liquor, wine, negative thoughts… each abstention has had its own challenges and benefits but none as important as the way in which each season has reminded me of the role that habit, and habitual thoughts and actions, play in our lives. 

how often have i popped a piece of candy in my mouth without thinking twice, munched on chocolate without really even tasting it, poured another glass of wine without considering if i had already had enough? 

we live so much of our lives without really noticing what’s actually happening. mindfulness takes practice and the pace of our days can sometimes border on ridiculous; there have even been days when i find myself running from one task to another in my own home! 

in this way, the lenten season asks us to take a moment to pause and consider our comforts and to appreciate them more fully.

normally i start talking about lent and what we are going to give up two or three weeks before the season begins.  we often have a small mardi gras celebration amongst ourselves and i always enjoy pancakes on ash wednesday. 

this year alegra made us traditional italian carnival cookies as part of our mardi gras fun!

but this year the whole season snuck up on me. it wasn’t until we pulled out alegra’s academic planner to start scheduling things for her second semester that i realized lent was just days away.

my first reaction was to rack my brain frantically to see what i should give up this year- last year was coffee- should this year be wine? sweets? booze? 

but as my mind raced through the options i suddenly stopped and realized that this year I AM NOT GIVING UP ANTHING.

this year, this pandemic year, we have given up enough.

we have given up hugs.  we have given up social interaction.  we have given up in-person school.  we have given up countless plans and dozens of dreams.  we have given up travel. we have given up seeing relatives who live abroad. we have already given up so much.

so, this year instead of giving something up, i am taking something up.

rather than mindfully abstain, i am going to mindfully make an addition. i am going to add something to my life; something meaningful and important for me; something that makes me feel good.  it is unlikely that any one thing can possibly make up for all that we, as humans, have had to give up this year.  but one nice thing for myself will certainly bring me joy, and a little bit of hope, and that is something that we all need right now.

therefore, in this lenten season of 2021 i am adding to my life one hour of creativity.  for one hour every day i will allow myself to create; to move away from all the daily necessities and practical concerns and just spend time creating.  there is no goal in this.  i don’t need to have a specific purpose to do what i do, i just need to like doing it and enjoy that time.  mindfully and with great appreciation of my ability to do this for myself.

what about you? do you traditionally give something up for lent? if so, what will you give up this year? or would you too, rather add something this season? 

let me know, i would love to hear! 

sunday muffins- gluten free and vegan banana…

funny story about this sunday’s muffins- alara and i were cooking a bunch of food for the lockdown weekend and i decided we would “try out” this recipe i had come up with.

but truth be told, i really was not concentrating on the muffins and so the whole thing turned into a bit of a joke!!!

i added extra ingredients, put in a bit too much baking powder, and completely forgot to preheat the oven 😅

oh well! the results were still delicious, and we tried out the recipe again today for a loaf of banana bread and so now the recipe is tried and true and ready to be shared…

covid and lockdown have been really stressful for us all and a bit of baking and laughing this week did us all a lot of good…

my wish for you is to have the (maybe unexpected) chance to enjoy the baking process with one of your children too; and be sure to get some laughs in too!!!

these muffins are perfect for breakfast- serve with a large dollop of nut butter, a sprinkling of chia seeds and a cup of coffee for a perfect winter treat.

oh! and i forgot, this is a blender recipe, so you only need one mixing bowl- or a blender- and you are set…

ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar 
  • 3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup nut mylk
  • ¼ cup nut butter 
  • 1 cup gluten free oats
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds

instructions:

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees 
  • line a muffin tin with muffin liners 
    • use a bread pan lined with parchment paper if you would rather make banana bread
  • blend bananas, sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract, apple cider vinegar, nut mylk, nut butter in blender or with hand mixer
  • add in oats, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda and chia seeds
  • for muffins bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean
  • for full loaf of banana bread bake for 25-30 minute

the whole load turned out amazing too… perfect for breakfast in the snowy winter weather we have these days here in istanbul ❄️

fun. now.

“having fun” has always been a tricky concept for me.

my mom tells me that even as a very young child i was pretty quiet and happy to sit and listen or observe my surroundings for hours; rather than joining in the excitement.

once i learned to read that was my ultimate definition of fun; i am infamous for asking friends who had come for sleepovers if they wanted to get in bed and read- at 6:30pm!!! (my wise mother encouraged me to play a game with my friend first; at least).

as a teenager i was WAY too self-conscious to let loose and really have fun. i did thoroughly enjoy hard work though and poured myself into academics, tennis, and art projects with gusto.

college was a little better. being surrounded by like-minded serious folks helped. as did a glass or two of wine. and fun was had, silliness occurred- not always but plenty for me.

not too long after that i got married and had two beautiful babies back to back (and a third a bit later on too). marriage and motherhood are serious things but the stability and routine that came along with it probably helped to relax me and, oh boy, have i had fun with my girls!

i have played in kiddie pools; danced with gymbo at gymboree; belted out disney princess songs in the living room; discovered “secret beaches” and set up “camps” so that we could munch on oreos; jumped off cliffs in greek islands; swam with dolphins; ridden on elephants; zoomed through vietnamese streets on vespas; watched lions up close; and spent endless hours chatting and laughing. no complaints here.

but this year fun has been a little harder to come by. the stress of the pandemic is overwhelming and i often feel a creeping guilt about how lucky we have been while so many people have suffered so much.

with a senior and a junior mired deep in school work and college prep the past months would have been hard and serious in any case. but covid has compounded it.

i’m probably not the only one feeling this way. but we need to remember that it is ok, and necessary , for us all to have a little fun. and to do it now. not to wait for the post-pandemic world to enjoy ourselves when possible.

i first started thinking about this after reading a beautiful post called “now” on a blog i follow- enough– the author, shauna ahern, reminds us to go ahead and do what we have been waiting for. do it now. enjoy today- read, learn, start projects, make things whatever. stop waiting and get going now.

i tested the waters on our trip to dubai. i have to admit it wasn’t very easy. but i closed my eyes, took a breath and just acted silly! it felt so good- and while i am not the all time silliest of people- it reminded me that i need to seek out fun.

my fun may not be the same as someone else’s but i need to recognize what is fun for me and DO IT!!!

since then i have resumed my nightly kitchen dance parties while washing the dishes; worked on small art projects at least two nights a week; and joked with my girls even when i felt crabby and snappy.

now i’m off to play catan and enjoy a snowy afternoon…

what’s fun for you these days? games, music, the outdoors? share your fun and we’ll keep sharing ours too!

sunday muffins- gluten-free double chocolate mini muffins!

nothing beats a little bit of chocolate and these mini muffins really just hit the spot!

last weekend we were away and fortunate enough to get to spend sunday morning on the beach.  our short vacation was much needed and we all returned feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. the thought of travelling internationally during the pandemic had us all on edge but everything went better than we anticipated and being able to spend most of our time outdoors helped to assuage our fears of being around strangers for the first time in months.

we visited a hotel in dubai where we had stayed before; but quite some time ago- our last visit there was in 2013-and we found many pleasant changes upon our arrival… more restaurants to visit, a whole new wing of the hotel, and tons of gluten-free options. full gluten-free menus are now easily available in all the dining areas and asking for gluten-free bread was not met with looks of uncertainty! at breakfast i was even offered a whole basket of gluten-free pastries- first time that has ever happened!

the mini muffins were my favorite and they are the inspiration behind this week’s sunday muffins. i’m not sure which recipe the hotel used but here is one with shredded zucchini that we love in our house- not vegan but thoroughly gluten-free and delicious too!

ingredients:

  • 1 cup zucchini- shredded 
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • 1 large handful dark and milk chocolate- roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup gluten-free flour
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup coconut oil- melted

instructions: 

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • line mini muffin pan with muffin liners
  • combine dry ingredients in a large bowl
  • combine eggs, almond milk, coconut oil and vanilla extract in another bowl- mixing well
  • pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until combined
  • add in shredded zucchini and chocolate chips
  • use a small spoon to fill muffin cups
  • bake for 10-15 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean

*** if making regular sized muffins please increase cook time to 20-25 minutes***

traveling in a covid world

today we took our first international flight in a world with covid.

last year on this day we were in south africa, blissfully basking in the beauty of babylonstoren unaware that the odd virus we were hearing about in china would soon come to dominate the news; and all our lives. (yes, in hindsight we should have worn masks on our capetown-istanbul flight- an idea i literally mocked and belittled at the time!)

a couple of thoughts-

1. this pandemic has taught me that we all must make our own risk calculations as necessary and based on individual circumstances.

2. the istanbul airport was much more crowded than i expected.

3. masks have become a pretty normal thing here in turkey and 90% of people were wearing them properly. that made me feel better.

4. thank you richard quest and cnn traveler for teaching my family to wipe down and disinfect our seating areas on aircraft years ago. we are pros.

5. covid is inescapable. as we entered the airport i had one surreal moment when it felt as though we would fly off and leave and magically land in a land with no covid. sort of like when we flew out of vietnam two years ago; exiting a communist country and finding ourselves in a safer feeling, calmer environment upon landing. instead we landed in dubai and are still wearing masks; washing our hands; and social distancing. we were required to present proof of a negative pcr test upon arrival and despite the advantage of increased outdoor space and warm weather we still feel a little wary of other people.

international travel during this period is a calculated risk we needed to take. and one we were fortunate enough to be able to take as safely as possible.

i am grateful.

a new routine- sunday muffins!

join us as we embark on a new routine- sunday muffins!

as a virgo through and through i am a very big fan of routines.  

knowing what is coming up centers me. it helps me to keep some of the more anxious thoughts and “what ifs” at bay. not only do i love living the routine, but i also adore planning the routine.  i have all sorts of notebooks- one for daily to-dos; one for our weekly meals; one for recipes; one for bigger, long term plans- and tons of lists! books to be read; articles to check out; yoga classes to take; things to buy; things to give away… all listed nicely and neatly.

as much as i love a routine life, over the years i have learned (sometimes the hard way) to let go and go with the flow (sort of).  juggling the needs, wants and schedules of three kids; living in the beautiful chaos of istanbul; being connected to other people socially and professionally- all these have been known to cause glitches from time to time! 

and of course, this year we are living through the biggest glitch of all! not in a million years would i have ever thought we would be on month 10 of staying home, at home learning, curfew and weekend lockdowns.  i really somehow thought this would be a couple months long blip in an otherwise normal year.

the first couple of months were better; alegra and i had a really great whiteboard, and we had a schedule for every day- it was great! i knew what was coming, everyone at home knew the plan.  it was as “normal” as one could have hoped for.

but these days, as covid wears on and on, i am finding it hard to even consider creating a routine.  i had hoped new years would inspire me but here i am halfway into the month and still a bit lost.

so, as i baked these muffins for sunday morning breakfast, i realized these might just be the perfect way to start a new routine! 

i’ve had food projects before; you can find a whole year of vegetable fritters (mucver, in turkish) here … and a year of gluten free kid-friendly treats here 

and so, it seems 2021 will be the year of muffins! the muffins will always be gluten-free; though not always vegan nor sugar free (sometimes we need a little treat too, guys!) i hope that you enjoy this new routine as much as i do 🙂

gluten-free vegan blueberry muffins

ingredients:

  • 2 vegan flax eggs (mix 2 tablespoons ground flax seed with 6 tablespoons water and set aside to thicken)
  • 2/3 cup vegan buttermilk (mix nut mylk with 2 teaspoons vinegar and set aside)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • ½ cup gluten free oats
  • ¾ cup gluten free flour mix **
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cup blueberries (can be fresh or frozen)

instructions:

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • line muffin pan with liner cups
  • combine flours, oats, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and mix well
  • add flax egg, buttermilk, melted coconut oil and vanilla extract and mix until just combined
  • fold in blueberries carefully – 
    • batter should be thick at this point, if not add 1-2 tablespoons almond flour
  • spoon batter into prepared muffin pan 
  • bake for about 30 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean
  • cool on rack for at least 10 minutes
  • serve warm with a cup of tea or coffee! 

** recently, i have been using organik bahce’s gluten free flour mix here in turkey**

growing pains

all three of my girls have been, at various stages of their lives, relatively tall for their ages.  as a result, they have all, at one point or another, experienced some growing pains.  literally, achy backs, sore knees, weird shin-related pains that seemed to come out of nowhere.  when faced with complaints over these pains, it always took me a minute to realize what was actually happening. i would ask all the usual mom questions, “did you bump yourself? fall down and don’t remember? jump on the trampoline for too long?”. only once we’d managed to go down this list did it occur to me that these were just growing pains. here today, gone tomorrow as the bones and the muscles and the ligaments all caught up to one another.

my own growth was relatively average in compared to my girls.  in addition, i was a relatively clumsy child too so when i had an odd pain it almost always had some sort of mishap attached to it! this is probably one of the reasons it always took me so long to recognize what was happening as their limbs expanded.

this year though, completely unexpectedly, at the ripe old age of 42, has been filled with growing pains!  not your usual growing pains, of course, although i have had my fair share of achy shoulders, stiff neck, and out of the blue stomach aches, but growing pains, nonetheless.

for me, living through the pandemic has laid bare truths and realities that i had somehow previously managed to keep hidden, lurking just under the surface of my consciousness.  so many feelings and hurts i had attributed to bad timing but good intentions; kindheartedness with a lack of empathy; good natured self-centeredness; necessary sacrifices that would eventually receive due recognition. 

i have written before that it seems to me the pandemic amplified us.  our personalities, challenges, fears, strengths- uncertainty, stress and worry has placed them on clear display- to embrace or reckon with as the situation requires.

for me, this has come with a whole slew of growing pains.  in particular, i’ve realized that there are so many things that i just need to let go of.

first and foremost, the idea that my truth is less true than those of others; it’s not. mine is just as true; but i really don’t need to convince anyone of this. i know it. that’s enough.

also, the shame that sometimes comes with putting my own truth first. that’s got to go. the idea that self-care is selfish goes high on the list of things to throw out.  regret and “what ifs”.  these are pretty useless too.

turns out that letting go of all this is painful.  literally, not just figuratively, i have woken up some mornings with a persistent ache, a kind of grief, as not just my soul, but my body too, tries to acknowledge what is being released. 

and with these growing pains, just as in the case of a child, there comes a new sort of space.  i’m the same size, clearly, as i was last year, but i feel bigger.  there is more of me to fill with new ways of being, new ways of thinking and new ways of feeling.

and just as it is for children, i can tell that these growing pains aren’t going to be a one day, one week or even one month thing.  it’s going to take a while and i am likely to have a good deal of aches in the process.

this week it’s my neck. it’s a sensitive spot for me and where i deposit a lot of sadness.  i was really sad this week, but instead of taking some advil and using lots of china gel i worked hard to be sad. to be really sad and get through the ache that way.  i slowed down and watched as the sadness washed in and out like waves on a beach.

there’s something coming in behind the sadness. i don’t know what it is quite yet, but it feels hopeful and strong. and i have the new space to hold onto it when it gets here. 

alara and alegra’s ooey gooey joyful brownies

if you live in istanbul you are hopefully enjoying this snow day as much as we are!!! the city is quiet and beautiful and watching the snowflakes fall is actually meditative in its own way. 

the snow brought us a LOT of joy- we made a snowman, had snowball fights, made snow angels, drank hot chocolate and of course, baked brownies- yum!

our brownie baking actually happened on saturday, while we were waiting rather (im)patiently for the snow to start.  we knew we would want dessert that night so alara and alegra figured out a way to use up a batch of caramel we had made mid-week for apple dipping.  

the result some of the most indulgent joyful caramel brownies i have ever tasted!  

they humored me and made them gluten free but feel free to use regular flour if you prefer; and don’t worry if you have left over caramel sauce, it is just as delicious on its own and perfect for dipping fruit or making ice cream sundaes 🙂

easy caramel sauce:

ingredients:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons butter- cut up into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes

instructions:

  • have all ingredients at room temperature 
  • heat sugar over medium high heat in bottom of a large saucepan-whisking continuously
  • once sugar is melted add butter and stir until melted
  • remove pan from heat and slowly add cream
  • whisk until cream is completely absorbed and caramel is smooth
  • add sea salt flakes and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes
  • store in a glass jar in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks

gluten free caramel brownies:

ingredients:

  • ½ cup dark chocolate- chopped into pieces
  • ½ cup milk chocolate- chopped into pieces
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup gluten free flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup salted caramel sauce

instructions:

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius (375f)
  • line a baking dish with parchment paper and set aside
  • in a large pot melt butter and chocolate together- allow to cool slightly
  • add in eggs, sugar and vanilla extract- mix well
  • sift gluten free flour on top and mix in until just combined
  • pour brownie batter into prepared dish and spread evenly
  • place large spoonfuls of caramel sauce on top of batter and use a knife to swirl into the batter
  • bake for 20-25 minutes for fudgy brownies; 30-35 minutes for more cakelike ones
  • the caramel will bubble, and the batter will seem to be shaky but don’t worry! once the brownies cool down the mixture will harden, and you will be able to cut and serve 
  • serve warm with ice cream if desired 

don’t postpone joy

this was laurey’s signature motto.  

a cancer survivor, laurey was a pioneer of farm to table cooking; basic but delicious catering; and later, upscale deli style restaurant dining in Asheville, nc.  a catered dinner from laurey’s was the first time i ever tried oven roasted seasonal vegetables and all of her meals always, always featured dessert- more often than not brownies and cookies- true comfort food.

throughout this whole pandemic laurey’s motto, don’t postpone joy, has been popping into my head at the oddest moments- just before i go to bed, right as i get out of the shower, as i’m cleaning up the kitchen after yet another meal, while i’m hanging up the laundry or taking out the trash.  

i love the sentiment, but how do we hang onto joy these days? 

the covid crisis seems to be on the cusp of getting worse yet again. the most recent mutation is likely to cause more illness and effect members of the population that were previously less vulnerable- especially children, which terrifies me. the situation in the u.s. is heartbreaking and nearly impossible to even grasp.  turkey has done a pretty decent job of getting its daily infection rate under control this past month- but this has come via strict weekend lockdowns, evening curfews and the complete closure of schools, restaurants and bars. to say we’re all a little stir crazy might be the understatement of the year.

the recent events in the united states are just awful.  i don’t know whether to stop listening to the news all together or to listen even more carefully with the hope that things may actually change in the upcoming months. i know that many observers, especially those living abroad, believe that the ideals touted by americans are not real- the black lives matter movement; a daily covid death rate of 4,000 people; the insurrection at the capital; the fact that the president believes he is within his rights to lie about a fair election and encourage violence against fellow citizens- all of these seem to prove that america is not what it seems.  with this i wholly agree- but america represents an idea; the hope that things can be different, and i choose to continue to believe in that idea- while accepting wholeheartedly that things need to change. but will they? 

at home we are done. my older children seem to be on track to graduate from high school via zoom- alara has never actually met any of her teachers in person and whether asya will even be able to go to college in the fall is unclear. alegra seems to be in the best position of all of us; luckily ten-year olds still love running around outside, even in the rain and sleet, so she has been able to see some friends and keep up a semblance of her “normal” life. erim has the art of online card game down pat.  he connects to his friends on the phone and joins the game on his ipad and has had many happy hours trading manly insults while attempting to trounce his buddies- lockdown weekends feature two games a day so he has gotten pretty internet savvy, i must admit.  as for me, i had so many plans for this year; and of which have been postponed

and there we are. so how do we manage to not postpone our joy in all of this?

i honestly don’t know.  i do know that we are so grateful for all our privilege and comforts. our warm home; our well stocked kitchen; our personal electronic devices that keep us connected with school, work, and friends; and our health.  but joy has been a little hard to find this winter. 

we’re trying. today the girls baked gluten free caramel brownies (recipe coming up in the next post).  i have a chilled glass and a cold bottle of champagne ready to pour while i watch the crown this afternoon. our fireplace is warm and toasty and ready for some smores this evening. and we’ve got our fingers crossed that it will snow tonight and we can make a snowman tomorrow. 

what about you? what is bringing you joy today? 

first dessert of the new year… apple crumble!

tonight was fish night at our house- at least once a week we try to have a fish dinner; we always have potatoes next to our fish and we always have some type of dessert too.

there is a saying in turkish that goes sort of along the lines of “after fish, sweets should be eaten”- and we take it pretty seriously- so as i ordered the fish this morning, i also ordered a yummy chocolate cake. but soon after i discovered a huge surplus of apples lurking in the pantry!!!

and so apple crumble was in the works 🙂

this is a super simple, gluten free and vegan recipe that was loved by all the carnivores and herbivores alike in our house… (and don’t worry; the chocolate cake won’t go to waste- plenty of chocolate lovers live here too!)

ingredients:

apple filling:

mix together-

1.5 kilos apples- peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces

5 teaspoons lemon juice

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

crumble topping:

mix together-

¾ cup brown sugar

½ cup almond flour

¾ cup gluten free oats

pinch of salt

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

instructions:

preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius

mix apple filling and crumble topping in separate bowls

spread apple filling evenly into an oven proof baking dish

spread crumble topping on top of apple filling in an even layer

bake for 50-60 minutes until top is browned and filling in bubbly

serve warm (and with vanilla ice cream or sorbet as desired)