The Gilded Serpent presents...
Azad's Mother's Kitchen
by Kayla Summers

Because of its proximity to a place I had to be at at 5:30 the following morning, Miss Azad's house was chosen as the place to rendezvous, and I hoped it would also be a crash pad.

I had attended a 'happening", given by the French, earlier that evening at Taxim Square. Huge inflated, colorful, birds were sailed around like in a Macy's Parade. There was a story line complete with fireworks and with interesting music, via an incredible sound system.

I took a taxi to Azad's. The area required careful entry. The taxi driver screeched up and down a maze of narrow streets, calling out to whomever was on the corners, asking for the street, then the house address. When we finally found it, the building didn't have a front light on, and I had forgotten Azad's family name, so I couldn't decide which bell to ring. I knew her window was the front one, so I leapt up and lightly tapped the window, which brought forth a worried-looking woman who suddenly beamed when she saw me.

It was Azad's mother! Ushering me in at 10:30 p.m., she did the motherly thing, asking five times if she could feed me. Then she went to wake up Azad, who stumbled out groggily, though she was smiling and looking her usual chic self, asking if her mom could get me anything.

I was then ushered into the "interior" and settled on a couch with Azad where we drank tea, watching the TV. Her father and uncle were sitting on the sofa too. We briefly discussed the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I made the mistake of saying you could get from one place to the other in 7 hours, but you had to go fast. Somehow, the men interpreted Interstate Highway 5 as the "autobahn." I told them it's very illegal to go too fast and there are lot of police to make sure you don't. The uncle was making a generalization that the autobahn in Ankara is the same as in France and in California. "Autobahns are autobahns everywhere," with straight roads where drivers are expected to go fast, he said.  They looked at me, expecting me to describe the French one, but I said I just flew in and I never saw it (whew!). Well, they returned to the discussion, getting more and more heated, until it was ended by Azad's father stomping off to bed. The uncle made me some Turkish coffee before he left also.

Azad then told her mom and me that Kalianna and her daughter were coming in two hours, around midnight. It's a small house, and I could see her mom doing the mental calculations of where to put everyone, while she discussed with Azad the doubtful wisdom of this impromptu rendezvous.

However, Azad, while moving her mattress to the living room, stuck to her guns. Her mother then went to the linen closet and pulled out fresh sheets. I was feeling more and more guilty. I mean, we were going to be there all of five hours, and I figured damn little of it would be sleeping. I commented on all the laundry the mom would have to do the next day. Azad cheerfully said, "Oh, she always does the laundry." "Yeah, but...I mean, she's changing the duvet!" (My mom would have been handing out sleeping bags and encouraging the guests to sleep outdoors!)

As we arranged the bedding, Azad's mother said she was going to go clean the (already spotless) kitchen. Then Azad dropped the next bomb. She said that we were going to use it, too. Her mom stopped dead in her tracks. She stood there, her mind trying to make sense of that statement. I don't know many women who willingly share their kitchens. They will make you whatever you want, but stay out of their domains!  (Kalianna's mother, who feeds me until my stomach hurts, won't let me even walk in to hers, and she says so in no uncertain terms.)

Azad then informed her mom that she was going to make a "spinach pastry" to feed twelve. I didn't understand the total extent of this shock until later, when I discovered that Azad does not cook!

However, her mom, who is an incredibly charming woman, looked a little dazed but took this all in stride. It was late; she had been preparing for bed and then a big day of moving to the summer home the next day.

Kalianna called around 11:30, and would need further directions to the house. Azad realized that Kalianna would never find the place, and decided that we'd hike out to get her, which we did. Then we performed another miracle: finding parking. Envision, if you will, narrow streets, narrowed further by parked cars crammed together along them, and parallel parking is not one of Kalianna's strong points. However, we were blessed with a huge parking space on Azad's block.

As I had seen Kalianna and her daughter earlier in the day, hiking at Byuk Ada, an island off Istanbul, I knew they must be as exhausted as I was. We all filed into the house and were greeted warmly by the mom, who, after apologizing profusely for not being able to show us the hospitailty she'd like to (short notice and all), took Kalianna to the back yard to show her the flowers that Kalianna had given Azad, a year earlier. She also showed us a lemon tree that she had grown from a seed. As we inspected the garden, the mom pulled the clothes off the line for Azad and me to fold while she cheerfully talked to Bilgai, Kalianna's daughter.

Bilgai, a mere sixteen years old, drifted off to sleep after making a garland of red carnations (her traditional job). Kalianna made her way back into the kitchen and began pulling out the things she would need to make her goodies. The mother gave her the pots and pans required, and Kalianna went to work like a professional, keeping all the ingredients in a very contained area. I'm not sure what one calls what she made, nor am I sure of the ingredients. Carob?, water, hazelnuts ground to a powder, cardamom and sugar, mixed and heated, then rolled into little balls and dusted with coconut. Azad's mom had not seen cardamom before, and we showed her the workings of it and gave her a taste. She was hovering around; it's a small kitchen, and more than two is a crowd, so I positioned myself at the dining table, well out of the way until called on.

The fete, planned for the morning, was Kalianna's religious leader's posthumous birthday. "Baba" was a basic socialist with Hindi/Buddhist doctrine.

Azad's mother, a devout Muslim, goes to prayer at the mosque two to five times a day. Though an accomplished cook, she had not seen the likes of Kalianna's concoction before. She tentatively asked if this was a "special" or "holy" food for the fete. Kalianna, replying, "No, it's just the only sweet thing I know how to make," gave her a taste to see if more sugar was called for. Naturally it was, because Kalianna hates the idea of sugar, so she compensated by adding both sugar and more hazelnuts.

The time was now 1:30 am and Azad was ready to begin making her dish. Pulling out two kilos of spinach, she performed the obligatory multiple rinses. We then started chopping. I, trying to impress the mom, took a bunch of leaves, bunched them up and sliced them thin, leaving the stems. Azad, chopping haphazardly, was talking with Kalianna about life in general. I asked her if she wanted the stems. Azad consulted her mom, then began picking the stems out of her pile. Her mother gently moved us out of the kitchen and placed a plastic tablecloth on her dining table so we had a place to roll the balls. She started working the spinach, which was sauteed with spices and cheese, but she took some time to sit with Kalianna and me as we rolled the balls in shredded coconut. I offered her a "finished product." She tasted judiciously and discussed the ingredients with Kalianna.

Thus inspired, she said she'd whip up something else for us and cheerfully returned to the kitchen, to make "Yemek Halva," made with semolina, milk, and loads of sugar, mmmhhmm! She poured that into a bowl to cool and firm, while making a chocolate topping. As she spread it over, Kalianna gently reminded Azad that they can't eat chocolate... caffeine...sigh. The mom scraped off the topping onto a plate, from which I busily ate, making the mom laugh, saying she'll give me the recipe. Oh, my first recipe!

The balls made and placed on a platter, we then cleaned the tablecloth for Azad's work, as it was clear that she had never done this before.

Mom brought the pan of mixed spinach and cheese, along with some round sheets of paper-thin pastry dough. She expertly tore one in quarters, placed the filling along the wide edge, lined it up and rolled it like a burrito, dripping some of the juices from the pan on the edge, for a "seal", then folding the stuffed strip's ends together. Azad took one piece and dolloped some of the mixture on, but, as she was talking to us, she forgot to line it up or roll it. As her mom was cranking those puppies out, she took Azad's and finished it. She commented to Kalianna that although she was delighted at her daughter's taking an interest in the kitchen, she wondered, "why now?"

I was allowed to glaze the tops of the "burritos" with a scrap of the dough, dipped in oil. We discussed ingredients, and Mom said it was so hard to find spinach in spring (it's a winter crop here), and I replied that it's the opposite in the States. Kalianna gave her the extra cardamom and shredded coconut, and she gave us the semolina.

As she worked, we were all talking. It was about 2:30 am, and Kalianna was nodding in her chair. I looked around the table, and the feeling was so warm. Azad is Armenian/Turkish, her father an Armenian Catholic; Mom is Turkish Muslim, Kalianna, a Turkish/Jew turned Hindi/Buddhist, and I, by ancestry, am equally Christian/Pagan.

There, at 2:30 in the morning, we represented the religions of the world as they were truly eant to be: interesting, peaceful, loving, sharing...leaving a good taste in your mouth...If only the rest of the world could sit at Azad's mom's table!

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