Friday, March 8, 2013

Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe (Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarması, or Yalancı)

 I’ve been feeling a little isolated lately. Most of my friends are coupled up and nesting, and the ones who are coupled up with children have little time for socializing with friends, what with the stresses of work, checked out husbands, therapy visits, and the endless round of Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday parties, the Chuck E. Cheese part of things a mystery to the childless. I imagine huge pits filled with dirty, colored balls, an inflatable, bouncy room, walls of video games, and kids running around the place with goofy hats on their heads, mouths full of pizza bites and mini hot dogs smothered in cheddo cheez. Did I get it right? Needless to say, I’m sure even these Chuck E. Cheese outings provide a welcome form of community.

Inspired by a friend of my sister’s in Portland, OR, I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to get a weekly potluck thing going. I’m a bit shy entertaining alone, so beginning something, even with a friend, has proven to be a daunting task. But this week I had my first three-person potluck, with the plan to make it a more populated, weekly event. I have a friend who relocated to New York from the Portland of Europe, aka Berlin, so it’s fitting that it was she who helped to get it going. To remind her of the Turkish food she had so much access to in Germany, and to offer her Greek Cypriot roommate a taste of home, I made stuffed grape leaves and feta walnut spread.

While cooking, I remembered the rustic version I created once while visiting a then boyfriend in New Paltz, New York. I was out for a jog along the Rail Trail, when I noticed, and harvested, abundant grape leaves from nearby vines. Those stuffed grape leaves had as much to do with the prepackaged sort one finds in the supermarket as cheddo cheez has to do with Farmhouse Dorset cheddar, but though I used brined leaves this time, and they lacked the textural heft of fresh leaves, they still contributed to a complexly flavored dish.

Tranquille. Les Pieds Dans L'eau.

 Once when I was traveling in the south of France, and agitated about something, a French native said to me, “Tranquille, pieds dans l’eau.” Meaning, relax, and imagine the gentle waves of the nearby Mediterranean lapping at your feet. This picture exemplifies the pieds dans l’eau moment I needed when I took a break from blogging.

Blogging was hard work. It took weekly recipe planning, shopping, cooking, photographing. It took planning to finish cooking in time to photograph using natural light. And then the writing, the requisite tweeting, the reading others’ blogs. While a wonderful creative outlet, and the only thing I had attempted for which I was solely responsible, I had hoped that one day my blogging would eventually lead to an additional source of income, and I was making, oh, 52 cents per month from ads. I had also recently broken up with my husband, and had starting dating. With a name like Banu Ogan, and a public blog, one click and any potential suitor had quick access to my life’s details, and at that moment, I wanted to live more privately.

But I have missed it. Often, during lunch, my dance students ask me what I’m eating, and for the recipe. I’ve missed widely sharing my healthy, one-pot meals with these dancers, ever concerned about nutrition and finances. I have missed the community of food bloggers I met here, and I have missed being inspired by others’ recipes and stories. Some of you aren’t cooks, but claim to have enjoyed reading my posts, and have encouraged me again and again to restart.


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