Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Let Your Heart Be Light

Some of my favorite decorations around our house...

I love the picture of a table full of Santas eating lunch in Chicago in the '30's.
The sweater trees on the left are on my project list for next year.

The three dining room windows feature a banner per window with the words "Merry" "and" "Bright."

The oddest Santa I've ever seen. I was so happy to find him on
eBay because my grandma had one just like this.

Letters are cut out of pages from an old french history book.

My Christmas Helper

Hang a Shining Star Upon the Highest Bough

Our tree looks pretty magical, but when you get up close, you can find some truly odd stuff hanging on it.

Some of my favorite ornaments...

Yes, that's a camel hanging near the top of the tree. Apparently, my grandfather played with it when he was little. We do a lot of the tie-a-string-to-something-and-make-it-an-ornament sort of thing in my family. I love him (he's even got fur!).

There are small paper snowflakes all over our tree saved from when we lived in Scotland. We couldn't spend much money on Christmas ornaments we weren't going to bring back, so I was really creative with our decorations that year. I don't know how long these will last, but I love seeing them on the tree every year. I didn't bring back the gold spray-painted holly leaves and pinecones that we also had on our tree there, though I did cave and buy three etched glass balls like the one on the right from the place where I worked in Scotland. I don't know why we sold them at our little tenement museum shop on the Royal Mile, but I love them.

Possibly it's a little known fact that when I lived in Indianapolis I was an elf at Christmas time. This ornament was hand-carved by Santa for me just before he moved to Florida and I moved to Chicago. He signed it "To Hanna Love, Santa" on the back. He was an amazing Santa, sitting at his workbench in the middle of the mall, hand-carving ornaments when we weren't busy that he would then sign for the kids. Every ornament had different carving on it, so they were all one-of-a-kind!

When we were in college, Nathan and I started giving each other one ornament every year (you can guess whose idea that was, I'm sure). Nathan's ornaments to me tend to be either very creative (cat ornament on the left has a picture of our cat taped to its face) or very odd, like the Mexican wrestler on the right.

My ornaments for him tend to lean to the sentimental, of course. I made the one below two years ago to memorialize our first Christmas in our first home together (that's our building).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Hope This Gets to You

Gorgeous song and the most creative music video I've seen since OK Go's. You also can't beat the romantic backstory...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Office White Elephant

We had our Christmas Holiday Party this year, and I finally got something good in the white elephant gift exchange.

So true, so true.
The girl sitting next to me got an off-white ceramic vase that looked like two opera gloved hands reaching up into the air. The opening for the vase was in the palms of the hands. Yikes, it's awful.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Whole Package


I encountered this blog last week, and I can't believe how very cool They Draw and Cook is! There are multiple postings every day of artists' illustrations of their favorite recipes, and right now they're featuring holiday-themed recipes. Not only is the art fantastic, but the food and drinks all sound delicious as well. I can't wait to try some of them out.



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Naked Turkish

One experience I did not expect to have when we headed to Turkey was being naked among the Turks. This is because I had not really read up on what to do in Turkey because if I had, one of the things on nearly every list is to visit a Hamam, or Turkish bath.
 Our impending trip to the Hamam came up in conversation at breakfast with a large group of Americans also living in Turkey. I became very nervous about the trip after hearing from the girls in the group, "Be prepared, they'll be fascinated with your nipples" and "Turkish woman can't handle how hairy we are." WHAT?! My unease skyrocketed. "Just how naked am I going to have to be? Also, THEY ARE GOING TO COMMENT ON MY NIPPLES TO EACH OTHER? In Turkish?! Should I find out the word for nipples so I know if they're commenting, or do I want to stay oblivious?"

It didn't help my comfort level that Nathan would have our friend Sean with him to translate, and I would be heading in alone as there are separate baths for men and women. The hamam we were headed to was the historic, the Cagaloglu Hamami, which was built by Sultan Mahmut the 1st in 1741 to provide revenue for the Hagia Sophia Mosque. I'll tell you a bit about Sultan Mahmut and the Hagia Sophia in subsequent posts, I'm sure.

We paid for our bath and a scrub down, got our kese (basically a loofah mitten) and the little blocks that showed what level of bath we had paid for, and headed into the main room together. Immediately I had a hail of Turkish being spoken at me. "This is the waiting area for the men," Sean explained. Oh.

"How is this going to work?" I asked. "Aren't you guys going to be in there longer than me? Should I just wait for you when I get out?"

"Aim for 7:30," he said. If you need to ask someone what time it is, say "Zaman yedi tane otuz tane?" he added.

I headed down the woman's hallway. The hallway opened up into an atrium with balconies that went up two stories on either side. I was directed up a flight of stairs and led to a little paneled room with cubby holes. I was given a key to one, told to undress down to my underwear, handed a small red towel, a peshtamal, to wrap around my waist and plastic sandals to wear into the main room. As I shuffled topless down the hallway, I suddenly realized I couldn't remember my Turkish phrase, not even a little bit. Something yedi something otuz...ugh. Apparently my Turkish disappeared along with my shirt.

The woman's area looks just like this.
I made it to the main room, which featured a gobek tasi, a large marble octagon-shaped stone about 2 feet off the floor on which approximately 25 people (in this case, topless women of varying nationalities), could comfortably fit lying down. Apparently, a fire is built under this large marble stone, which heats the room and causes a sauna-like atmosphere. The women lying in the center of the stone were steaming as they waited for their turn to move to one of the 8 sides where they will be scraped, massaged, and washed. I climbed up past the equally topless tellaks (women who are a combination of masseuse and washerwoman) spread my towel out on the marble and laid down.

A view of the ceiling in the main room of the Cagaloglu Hamam.

It was somewhat difficult to relax as I was wracking my brain to remember my Turkish phrase, and I kept getting smacked on the forehead with the large droplets of water that were falling down three stories from the beautiful domed ceiling, but the room was lovely. Everyone's voices were that combination of echoed and muffled like you often hear at an indoor pool. Splashing sounds came from the little alcoves around the room where women were having their hair washed. A tellak tapped me on the ankle and gestured me to the edge of her corner. I scooted myself into position on my back and handed her the little block that said that I had also paid for a keselenmek, which is basically an exfoliating scrub down.

The dark, short and bent old woman doused me with a bucket of warm water and set about scrubbing my arms, stomach, and legs with my kese. I had heard that the mitten ends up gray with dead skin, but I must have been remarkably exfoliated already because mine was unsatisfactorily the original beige color after my scrubbing. She rinsed me, then brought out a large bag with a small bar of soap in it. She accordianed the bag causing a cascade of bubbles to drip down out of it onto my stomach, which is a very odd, though soothing, sensation. She then soaped me up and massaged my arms, clavicle area, then had me flip so she could get my back, shoulders, legs, and then feet. Surprisingly enjoyable, especially because thankfully she avoided the particularly awkward areas. I had been psyching myself up to be cool with whatever was coming my way because I didn't want to come across as a prudish American. I suppose my sigh of relief gave me away anyway though.

After the final bucket of water over the top of my head, she pointed me into an alcove behind her to await a thorough hair washing. I sat there alone, with my bangs dripping in my eyes, in my underwear, holding my sopping and cold peshtamal and wondered if I had understood her correctly. Wait here? For her? She looked busy in there. I gingerly pulled a copper bowl out of the cistern next to me and dumped it over my head.Was that it? I stood up. I sat back down. I stood up and peered out the arched doorway. A different old bent lady in her underwear waddled over with some shampoo. She uttered a string of Turkish which I took to mean go back in and sit down. So I did. She soaped up my hair and then poured another bucket of water on my head. Somewhat less soothing this time. I was getting tired of buckets of water on my head.

Then she pointed across the room and said something more in Turkish. I found my sandals and shuffled questioningly across the room to another alcove. This one had a neck-deep pool in it with a small fountain arching over one end. I stepped out of my sandals and into the pool. Sitting in a pool in a small low lit room by yourself is not the most stimulating of experiences, so I spent 10 minutes or so floating and then I headed back out to the marble slab. I laid there for what felt like hours (but was likely only 5 minutes) and decided it must be 7:30 now. I headed out into the foyer to find out.

Men's Waiting Area
Frank Tophoven/Laif/Redux
My mangled phrase brought only a look of utter confusion from the tea lady until I pointed at the imaginary watch on my wrist. She promptly pointed at the clock on the wall to my right. Ugh. Also, it was not yet 6:30. This was going to be awhile. I ordered some apple tea, realized I had no pockets and therefore, no lira, and was at a loss. The lady explained in very limited English that I could pay after I got dressed.  At 6:30, I headed up to change my clothes, peered out into the men's waiting room, got stared at a whole lot, (my boys not in sight) and picked a seat to wait, hoping that they'd venture out before 7:30.

Luckily, they did. Their experience had been similar, though they didn't have a pool to luxuriate in like the women. We organized our tips, and I ventured in to find my particular bent, half-naked old woman to tip. I couldn't identify her, so I tipped the lady who was in the corner where I had been and hoped that it was her. We set out into the evening, clean, smooth, and exhausted. Apparently, luxuriating takes it out of you.

All images from Google Search. Yours? Let me know, and I'll credit them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So Much to Do

As thoughts of all I have to get done this week swirled through my head, I came upon this print.

How fitting.

Seb Lester,  http://www.seblester.co.uk/

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teşekkür Ederiz (Teh-shek-urr Ed-eh-reem) Turkey!

Which means, thank you very much, (I tend to think of it as "with sugar on top" because I remember the phrase as two-sugar dream), and is pretty much the only Turkish I managed to learn. Sadly, it took me seeing it on a receipt in the airport on our way out of Istanbul for me to fully wrap my head around the pronunciation, so it was not used to impress the locals.

Actually, I did not feel that we did a particularly good job of impressing the locals while we were there except when we were able to assure countless people (taxi drivers, shop keepers, anyone else realizing that we were American) that yes, we did vote for Obama, and we were indeed very glad that he is President. Don't get me wrong, people were certainly welcoming of us, and very nice, but the complete lack of language skills left us feeling rather lost, pathetic, and as if we were unappreciative of their culture (far from the truth).

Both Nathan and I lapsed into a variety of unhelpful Romance languages as we attempted to communicate. Obviously, my pidgin French and his Spanish were of no help as Turkish is based on languages from Central Asia (Oghuz). Funnily enough we did get the occasional "auf wiedersein" from shop keepers. I could not decide if I was more flattered to be mistaken as a nationality other than American (sorry, but we just don't have good reputations abroad, guys) or offended that people thought I was German. Couldn't I be French or Italian? Looking in the mirror, of course, I realize that this is an absurd wish.

Yeni Rakü-
Never trust a drink that turns cloudy in water
A curious note about Turkish: if the "i" is dotted the "i" sound is a long e sound (see above in the "reem" part), if not, the i has a completely different pronunciation. Beats me what. (I was probably told this, but I'm sure it was during one of the countless times I was repeating "teşekkür ederiz" to myself in the hopes that I would manage not to mangle it my next attempt.) I also remember that there are eight vowels, based on four of the vowels we have, but with each of the four having two different pronunciations that actually make them separate vowels. This means that even now I butcher the pronunciation of Rakü (Ruck-uh), the Turkish alcohol that we had at dinner one night. Sadly, it's gross, unless you like anise.

It's interesting that I started my Turkey posts with the language. Obvious, I suppose, since that's the first thing you encounter in a foreign country that truly convinces you that you're "not in Kansas anymore," but in our case the language was the first of many Turkey experiences that humbled us. I'll definitely touch on some of the other experiences in subsequent posts, but I hadn't realized until now that humility played such a big part in our trip. Please don't mistake humility for humiliation because none of our experiences were bad, just humbling.

Being dependent on others for directions, patience, forgiveness, and even (in the case of our trip to the Hamam, the Turkish baths) their washing of you are complicated situations to face. It was hard. Frustrating to get lost and not understand ANY of the signs, difficult to be asked what you are sure is a basic question and be completely clueless, and uncomfortable to be (mostly) naked around strangers you can't understand. Nathan and I are pretty good travelers; we talk to strangers, we ask questions; we make connections, so it was certainly extra hard to swallow our pride in how self-sufficient and adventurous we are in our travel when suddenly we couldn't. But that's where the humbling came in. Humility makes us aware. Aware of the sights and sounds of the city, sure, but also of connections to strangers even without language and the effort that they take to make these connections.

Our lovely cab driver, Hamdi, who collected us from the airport and assured us that Sean had sent him though he knew a handful more English than we knew Turkish. Even without the ability to have a conversation, he still wanted to take us to lunch, talk to us about the city, and tried to turn down payment for the cab ride. We had encounters like this all through our trip: the cab drivers who were anxious to get our take on politics, Turkey, etc.; the stooped ladies at the Hamam who were especially kind when I was clueless on how to pay for my tea while wearing just a towel; the football fans who were thrilled to see we were supporting their team and many more.

I'm sure the discomforts of this trip will fade from my memory, but I'm particularly glad we had them because they made some of the trip highlights much more vivid (a row of seated quiet hajj-goers sitting in front of the airport window swathed all in white, a crowded smoke-filled patio filled with red and black beanbag chairs upon which lounging backgammon players all sat, enamored by a tiny feral kitten scampering about, exhaling hookah smoke in smoke rings above their heads, and standing on the steps of the Blue Mosque as the sun sets and the call to prayer crackles to life) and forced me to grow as a traveler. I'll certainly learn how to say "thank you" in Japanese and Korean before our next trip at least, that's for sure!

All photos by me, Hanna McArdle, 2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Recent Conversation #6

Me: I had a disturbingly realistic dream about being pregnant last night. What I remember most about it was being pissed that I was going to be pregnant at Jess's wedding and trying to figure out how to still get an MBA. I was really relieved to realize it was just a dream.

Him:...Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you're going to be a very difficult pregnant wife.

Me: (Cackling maniacally.) You think? That just a niggling concern that you have?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Need a Killer App

In the last month, we've been asked to bring an appetizer (oh, you were thinking technology, were you?) to at least two dinner parties. I have started to gain a repertoire of certain go-to recipes for a variety of dishes, but a fabulous appetizer is not among them yet. If I were allowed (Nathan is so picky!) to use something with puff pastry as a main ingredient, I would be set (super-tasty brie and raspberry tartlets, anyone?), but taking pastry off the table means that cheap and quick and "the best thing you ever put in your mouth" seem to go out the window.

The Food Channel c2009
For the first dinner party, we decided on prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, which I sort of guessed at since we had them at a catered party earlier this year. I roasted the asparagus in the oven after shaking the spears with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Then I wrapped them in prosciutto slices and refrigerated them overnight (later we decided the prosciutto needed crisping in the oven too, so we put them back in right before serving). Next time I make these, I will definitely try wrapping the prosciutto before roasting the asparagus because I think that will both save time and keep the asparagus a little more crisp.  This was a pretty easy appetizer, though I would recommend it for a small group as large amounts of prosciutto and asparagus can be expensive (especially when asparagus is not in season).

Kara/www. forkedchicago.com
The most recent dinner that required appetizers was much bigger, so we needed to go bigger. After perusing many a cookbook (Nathan perused; I vetoed. No, we're not roasting chestnuts. No. No. Eh, too time consuming. No, I'm not going to attempt sushi for a Thanksgiving appetizer, sorry. Easy, babe, we're looking for easy.) We settled on stuffed cherry tomatoes (though cherry tomatoes were also not in season). Nathan picked three fillings: white bean puree, olive tapenade, and a bread mixture from the Martha Stewart Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook (yes, that meant quite a lot of ingredients and preparation, among them frying sage leaves to top the bean puree). I cored and scooped all of the cherry tomatoes. I made 60. It took awhile, but I got decent at it, and didn't wreck any of the tomatoes, although I'm sure Martha would not have approved of all of them, since some looked a bit raggedy. They were tasty, though not particularly inexpensive. I don't know if I will do them again anytime soon because the expense to prep time to tastiness ratio was (high? low?)...not what I was looking for it to be.

So that leaves us where we are now. Still looking for that illusive appetizer recipe. The one that elicits raves and leaves people eying the platter, contemplating licking it clean to get those last little bits. I'm worried that with the exclusion of puff pastry as an ingredient, it can't be found.