Monday, March 15, 2010

Free Stuff!

Who doesn't like free stuff? Celebrities apparently get it all the time -- sunglasses, clothing, cell phones ... But am I weird for getting excited about free groceries?

I recently wrote about the 5-kilogram bucket of yogurt we get every few weeks from one of my husband's workers, but it dawned on me the other day that we are constantly receiving free food items, and in huge quantities at that. And I love it!

Turkey is a country that loves its domestic agricultural products, and there is plenty of everything. Add to that the country's culture of sharing, and you've got free food. My husband recently returned from a project in Anamur, a city famous for its bananas. Guess what he brought home with him?

But my husband is from a large family, and is used to seeing things in large quantities. So he didn't just bring back bananas, he brought home five kilograms of bananas!

I've gotten tea from Saudi Arabia; and pul biber (Turkish paprika) from Mardin. And it's always been in huge quantities. Every year, the family orders one hundred kilograms of honey from somewhere in eastern Turkey, and distributes it among the siblings. There are only six siblings. You do the math.

One year, my husband's brothers decided to plant peanuts on a random strip of land they had somewhere outside the city. I knew nothing of this until one day my husband came home with a potato-sack-sized bag of peanuts, and plonked it down in the middle of our kitchen floor! Needless to say, I wasn't exactly overjoyed. What the heck would I do with 50 pounds of peanuts?

I admit that the peanuts were more a source of stress than joy over the course of that year. Every so often I'd shell a few until my thumbs developed blisters (I never got more than a small bowlful at a time) and we'd roast them in the oven as a snack. I made peanut butter, otherwise unavailable here (the sweetened version they sell in the supermarkets doesn't count!). And from the peanut butter, I made peanut butter cookies.

It took me a while, but I've finally figured out that you've got to embrace what you've got when you've got it. Back in Toronto, I'd buy a few oranges and other pieces of fruit for the fruit bowl each week, and enjoy a couple of different fruits each day; at the end of the week, I'd buy more. But when your mother-in-law gives you 20 kilograms of oranges, grapefruit and lemons, you've got to consume them quickly, or they go bad. And nothing feels worse like knowing you've let good food spoil and go to waste. And so it's freshly squeezed grapefruit juice every morning, and a few oranges for an evening snack each night, and lemon juice on every salad; it's orange cake and candied grapefruit peel.

In the winter, it's citrus; in summer, it's figs. You can never have too many of those. Once a year it's olives and olive oil; every autumn it's pecans -- whole, unshelled, raw. As each crop is harvested, a huge portion is doled out to each sibling, friend, or neighbour. I now look forward to each season and what it will bring to my kitchen; and then, for a few weeks, we feast on a certain food, knowing it'll be another year until we see it again.

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