Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Mom’s Turkish Lentil Soup Recipe – for Rowena

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

Lentil soup’s always been my favorite comfort food growing up. It’s thick, hearty, delicious, vegan, and easily modified with whatever ingredients I have on hand.

When a friend asked for favorite vegetarian recipes, I looked up lentil soup recipes online (it’s the most standard soup in Turkey), but wasn’t satisfied with any of them. So here’s how I make it with all fresh ingredients.

Lentil Soup

– 1 cup red lentils (washed and drained). There are different kinds out there; I prefer the roundish, bright, smooth orange ones. Some are more yellowish, flat, and matte in appearance; don’t get those.
– 8 cups water
– 1 tablespoon rice
– 1 medium onion (whole)
– 1 carrot (diced)
– 1 potato (diced)
– 1 tomato (diced)
– 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
– salt to taste
– fresh chopped parsley (see ‘modifications’ below)

– Put all ingredients except the oil and parsley into a pot and bring to a boil with the lid fully or partly open. (Yes, leave the onion whole! It just bobs around.) Pay special attention; mixture tends to bubble up and boil over easily during this step.
– Once it’s boiling pretty vigorously, bring heat down to medium. Leave the lid partly open. Stir 1-2 times once every 10 minutes for about 30 minutes. If not stirred enough, the lentil tends to stick to the bottom of the pot and get burnt during this step.
– Add the oil about half hour after the boiling has started. Continue cooking and stir occasionally.
– Add the fresh parsley until the soup is nearly “done.” This is hard to describe in writing, but you’ll know it’s done when the lentils have nearly entirely dissolved into solution, smell cooked, and the soup has thickened. I’d say this take about 45 minutes after it’s come to a boil. As my mom says, “You’ll know.”
– Most people take an immersion blender to it at this point. I prefer mine left as is: chunky. You can blend the onion into the soup, or if you’re not blending it, just throw the onion out.

Modifications: (the fun part)
– I often add dried thyme and black pepper. Could also do rosemary, turmeric, cumin, bay leaves, etc. When adding dried herbs, add them early on.
– Sometimes I substitute chopped kale or collard greens, etc. instead of parsley. Go ahead and put in a large amount; it shrinks down considerably. Add it a little earlier than you would the parsley.
– You can throw in any other vegetable you think would go. In the past I’ve added bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, shaved brussels sprouts, etc. The possibilities are endless. Bell pepper, especially, really heightens the flavor.
– Sometimes I add chopped jalapeño (to everything).
– Some people use chicken stock or bouillons to add flavor. I think that’s cheating.

Azeri-inspired quinoa: a “recipe” without measurements

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Azeri-inspired quinoa

I traveled to Azerbaijan recently with my family. While we saw many parts of the country and took numerous pictures, what stuck with me the most was the subtle differences in the flavors and ingredients in the food. I ate more tarragon than I ever had in my life up to that point – it is not an herb that’s been in my family’s culinary repertoire. I loved the pickled sour cherries, especially when they were cooked into rice and soups. And, I noted that the flavors tended to lean towards more sour than spicy. I put these elements together in my mind with whatever I had in the pantry when I got home (except I had to go out and buy the tarragon). What came out has nothing to do with anything I ate there, but it turned out more delicious than I’d imagined it could be, and made me fondly reminisce about Azerbaijan.

I don’t want to put precise measurements here, because I made a small batch and “winged it” with the proportions for what felt right. You should do the same. I’ll just tell you how I made it.

– quinoa
– olive oil
– Craisins
– lemon
– fresh tarragon
– salt

1. Sauté some craisins in olive oil, salt, and some lemon juice for a bit. Zest the lemon peel and add some of it in there, too.
2. Bring water (proportional to quinoa package instructions) to a boil and add it to the craisins.
3. Chop up plenty of tarragon and stir it in with the water.
4. Add quinoa and cook it.
5. I threw some fresh tarragon on top as a garnish, just to be a poser. You don’t have to do that. In fact, you don’t have to follow any of these instructions.


Friday, September 11th, 2015

amazing cup

Ever since I moved out of my parents’ house a year ago, I’ve been more conscious of the waste that I generate. Much of this self-reflection was inspired from the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, which was recommended to me by a coworker. The book is a fairly unbiased survey of the origins of plastic, how it completely changed humanity in the past century (in both good and bad ways), how its disposal is managed, what it means to be “green,” and what lies ahead. I found it fascinating and would recommend it to anyone.

Two of the biggest takeaways I got from the book were that most plastic can’t be recycled, and paper bags actually have a greater cradle-to-grave environmental impact than plastic bags. Therefore, minimizing the amount of trash generated is the best route to go. When I examined my life, I found simple solutions for reducing the overall amount of waste I generate, plastic or otherwise, by making only small changes to my lifestyle.

Here are some little habits I changed in the past year:
– I unsubscribed from almost all magazines and brochures I kept getting in the mail – since most of these are unsolicited, it’s a continuous process. For some, the only way is to send a letter to their headquarters with the customer ID number written on the back of the catalogue, but it’s well worth the effort
– I bring my own travel mug to coffee shops whenever I can. I used to do this before, too, but I plan ahead more aggressively now
– I avoid bottled water unless absolutely necessary
– I eliminated almost all ziploc bag use by packing snacks and sandwiches in tupperware instead
– I always use my own mugs at work for water, tea, coffee, etc. and I use real silverware whenever possible
– I always bring reusable bags when I go grocery shopping
– I tell shopkeepers to skip the bag if the object is small enough to fit in my purse
– I reuse shopping bags as bathroom trash can liners, or for compartmentalizing shoes and underwear in my suitcases
– I save gift bags and re-gift them
– I buy items in bulk as often as possible, especially non-perishables. This also means foregoing items of convenience such as pre-sliced fruit or individually packaged single-servings of yogurt, etc.
– I fully consume pretty much all food I buy and try to generate minimal food waste. You can tell from my waistline…. haha, just kidding.
– I print double-sided, and go as paperless as I can. For example, if I need to reference a map or document where I won’t have phone reception, I save a screenshot or pdf of it on my phone to refer to later
– I almost forgot: KEURIGS are so wasteful, and their pods can’t be recycled. I make my own coffee at work now, but if I ever have to resort to those things, I use the reusable pods, which is graciously supplied by our admin at work

The journey isn’t over yet, of course. Below are future steps that I haven’t gotten around to yet:
– Figuring out a way to unsubscribe from credit card offers from other banks – they give you a number to call to stop receiving the mailings, but the automatic answering machine asks for your social security number to remove you. That’s too sketchy for me, so I’ll have to investigate if there’s a better way to do it. You may think I’m crazy for obsessing over this, but I get SO many of these junk mailings.
– Eliminating/minimizing those thin plastic bags when I buy produce. The cashiers don’t like it when you put the items on the conveyor belt rolling all around freely, and I buy so many fruits and vegetables that the number of bags I use irritates me. What do you do?
– Composting. Everybody does it in San Francisco. It’s not as widespread in LA, it kind of grosses me out, and I wouldn’t even know what to do with it afterwards. I live in an apartment and have no garden that I could put it in. Oh well, whatever. Maybe I’ll worry about this later… much later.

I admit that I am not as big of a treehugger as some people; there are some comforts I’m not willing to give up just yet, like q-tips and other sanitary products. But I’m sure there are other potentially simple changes that I’m overlooking. I’m curious to hear if any of you have any “quick wins” you’ve applied in your own lifestyle lately to reduce trash.

Note: The photo above is mine from sometime last year. I was fascinated by how tightly this cup was sealed!

Savory Kumquat Mint Oatmeal

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

I thought of this experiment to get rid of the rest of the kumquats before going on vacation. The results were so fantastic that I had to share.

Ingredients (for 1 serving – scale as needed):
– A handful of kumquats (about 6-8)
– 1/2 onion
– ~2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
– Olive oil (I think I used 1-2 tbsp)
– Oatmeal and water, amounts following package directions
– Salt, as needed (I think I used 1/2 tbsp)
– (egg, avocado)

1. Dice the kumquats and onions and sauté them a little in a saucepan with olive oil and salt.
2. Once the mixture is mushy and juicy, add the mint. Continue cooking until the onions caramelize a bit.
3. Add the water to the mixture and bring to a boil.
4. Once the water begins to boil, stir in the oatmeal and simmer as long as needed, following package directions.
5. Once all the water is absorbed and the oatmeal is perfectly mushy, transfer onto a bowl and top with a poached egg and avocado. Garnish with fresh mint.

Savory, tangy, and delicious… I don’t know if I can top this one.

Note: Kumquats are rare, so I’m wondering if I could substitute a 1/2 lemon in their place next time… peel and all. It’s worth a try!

Two Savory Oatmeal Recipes

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Oatmeal is so boring. For years I thought that the only way to make it palatable was to douse it in brown sugar or honey, and I’m more of a fan of savory foods, so I wasn’t interested. I never really thought of making savory oatmeal until a friend Sam posted a photo of oatmeal with a poached egg on top back in 2012. I was intrigued, but didn’t bother to try it until I had a place of my own this year.

These are two pretty simple recipes I’ve experimented with so far. I am now an oatmeal convert.


Kale and Onion Oatmeal

This one’s very quick to make in the microwave in those weekday mornings when you’re rushing to work (given that you’ve done the prep work!). Therefore, the recipe below serves one and utilizes the microwave.
You can do this stovetop and with multiple servings, too, obviously. I made a pot of it for my friends yesterday, and they all loved it.

– 1 bunch kale*
– 1 onion*
– olive oil
– salt
– microwavable oatmeal of your choosing
– egg

* I usually make a big batch of sautéed kale and onions and add it to my food over the course of the week. Don’t eat it all at once, unless you are throwing a big oatmeal party!

1. Chop up the onions and sautée them over a wide pan for a little bit in olive oil.
2. Chop up the kale and add to the onion. Add salt as desired. Put the cover on and cook it until you’re happy – I like mine pretty wilted, so it may take over a half hour.
3. In a bowl, put in as much oatmeal/water as you want (or as the packaging suggests).
4. Throw a few spoonfuls of the kale/onion into the oatmeal/water mixture, add a dash of salt, and stir the concoction.
5. Follow packaging instructions for microwaving.
6. Stop the microwave 30 seconds prior to the time running out, crack an egg on top, then put back into the microwave for an additional 1-1.5 minutes.**

** I’ve found that the egg cooks faster when it’s closer to the edge. If it’s still runny, just stab it a few times once it’s out of the microwave; the oatmeal will be pretty hot and it will cook instantly.

Tomato, Onion, Thyme Oatmeal

This one’s a stovetop recipe and serves one. I wanted something filling to make it through most of the day, and it hit the spot!

– 1/4 onion
– 1 tomato
– 1 teaspoon or more thyme
– oatmeal of your choosing
– salt

1. Chop up the onions and sautée them over a little saucepan for a little bit in olive oil.
2. Chop up the tomatoes and cook with the onions until the tomatoes are soft and mushy. (Or, cook more until they caramelize a little bit.) Add salt and thyme as desired.
3. Add as much water as the packaging suggests, mix it all together, and bring it to a boil. (I boiled the water in an electric kettle because I was impatient.)***
4. Add as much oatmeal as the packaging suggests and simmer until it’s done, stirring occasionally.
5. I garnished this one with Greek yogurt, but you could also slice an avocado and/or poach an egg on top.

***I made a rookie mistake and attempted to use milk instead of water. Don’t do it!! Tomato is acidic, and it curdled the milk when I boiled them together (duh, in retrospect!). I googled the problem and apparently this is a common issue when making creamy tomato soup. Some sites suggest adding baking soda to the tomato, which neutralizes the acid. You could also add the tomato slowly into the milk. Makes sense, but I was too lazy/hungry to experiment with it this time.

Anyway, I hope this inspires you to take a foray into the world of savory oatmeals! I had googled a few examples when starting out, and my own recipes are simpler and way tastier than a few I found in “wiki-how”-type websites.

Why I Don’t Wear Daily Make-up

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Because I don’t want people to associate me with a face that isn’t naturally mine. Because once I start wearing daily make-up, the one day I skip wearing eyeliner, people will feel the need to ask me if I’m okay or tell me that I look “tired.” Once that happens a few times, it will trap me into a cycle of having to wear make-up every single day to avoid getting comments like that.

I am not against make-up. I started to play with eyeliner in 10th grade. For me it’s fun, it’s art, and sometimes it’s like facepainting in a carnival. I reserve make-up for special occasions, and I like how it looks. But I don’t want it to be a habit and expectation for both myself and for those who look at me on a day-to-day basis.

I know of people who would never leave the house without make-up because they no longer feel like themselves without it. I get it; I’m the same way with my glasses. It’s “my look.” I know people who get eyelash implants so they won’t have to wear mascara for a month. I know people who wear make-up tattoos so they never have to worry about being seen make-up-less. For me, that seems like too much of a hassle to “feel like myself.” Yes, I’m a little bit lazy, but I’m comfortable with myself, so it works out. Therefore, I want people to know me by my natural face… for now.

Photo by Rotem Eren-Rabinovich.

The Perfect Haircut (For Now)

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

After a year of premeditating and pinning, I finally got my hair cut in an angled long bob, and it’s exactly what I wanted.

It seems like an insignificant event, but let’s review some background information. Having curly hair is tough; there aren’t as many options out there. I don’t like huge, poodle-like volume in curly hair, so my go-to style has been long and sleek curls for years. I don’t like how most long-haired women get their hair layered where it’s shorter in the front and extremely long in the back, and I also don’t like the un-layered cuts, because it makes my hair flare out like a pyramid. And straightening (either daily blowdrying or chemically straightening) has always been out of the question.

My hair hadn’t been this short since 7th grade. I got a medium-length cut a few years ago, but I hated it; it was just so boring. When I got my previous haircut last spring, I cursed myself for not going shorter. Even worse, I was too lazy to get another haircut for another year, so I admit that my hair got a little out of control over the past year. Below is a recent image of me looking fancy with my long, beautiful hair blowing in the wind, but I’m actually annoyed as I push it out of my face.

The other thing that bothers me about long hair is that, though it’s beautiful, I never know how to place my hair. Sometimes I get frustrated and throw all of it behind my shoulders, and other times I gather all of it in front of my shoulders, which probably looks weird from the back. I often pulled half of my hair back, which allowed me to wear my hair down and still have peripheral vision. I’d been tired of feeling like I was carrying a “pelt” on my back at all times, so I love that the back is short now. It’s one less thing in my life to worry about.

There are lots more I can write on hair, including how hair length is perceived on women in a professional setting, and how Felicity’s ratings plummeted when Keri Russell chopped off her hair, but I’ll leave that for another time.

New haircut photos taken by me, long-hair photo taken by Rotem Eren-Rabinovich, and haircut is courtesy of Ouidad Salon.

Room Full of 5000 Women: The Highlights

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Last week I went to the 25th annual Professional Businesswomen of California conference in San Francisco. Usually I’m leery of all-women activities, but it was an excuse to visit friends in town (and because Arianna Huffington was one of the keynote speakers). The conference convinced me that there are certain issues that require gathering thousands of women in one place and educating them, but also that more men need to be involved in the discussion.

The main takeaway from the conference was that women feel stressed and overburdened, because they take on too many things and want to do all of them perfectly. That certainly resonated with me. When women don’t do everything to perfection, they lose confidence and hold themselves back. Being aware of these differences is the first step to doing something about them.

Arianna Huffington focused on burnout. She likened valuing money and power for success to sitting on a two-legged stool; it’s unstable and prone to failure. She encouraged us to get more sleep (something I’ve already improved over the past two years), and take time to relax, disconnect, and reflect. Her most shocking and memorable part of the speech was when one day, sleep-deprived and exhausted, she collapsed onto her desk and woke up in a pool of blood. She had broken her cheekbone and had to get stitches. That’s when she realized, “If you come to in a pool of blood and nobody has shot you, that is not success.”
Three other quotes from her speech that I particularly liked were on not internalizing stress and not feeling victimized when things don’t go as planned: “Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen,” “Live life as if the world is rigged in your favor” (Rumi), and “Our eulogies have nothing to do with our resumes.”

Another powerful keynote speaker was Charlotte Beers, who is apparently known as “the most powerful woman in advertising” and “the queen of Madison Avenue.” It was obvious that she had extensive experience and wisdom in succeeding in male-dominated corporate environments. I was so intrigued by her that I bought her book, I’d Rather Be in Charge. She advised us to “go for influence instead of the corner office.” She pointed out that women are too modest, and to “Burn ‘modest.'” Women apparently focus on knocking things off their to-do list and getting their work done instead of building relationships like the men do, so she snapped at us to “knock it off!”

One of the break-out sessions I went to was titled “Gender Differences in Saying ‘No'” by Dr. Lise Vesterlund, an economics professor in the University of Pittsburgh. Much of Vesterlund’s recent research focused on how many promotable and non-promotable tasks that women and men work on during their careers. Non-promotable tasks are trivial assignments that add little value to a person’s career in the long run, but are things that need to get done. The nature of the task varies on the industry, but in an academic career, examples include sitting on university committees, taking notes in meetings, and organizing holiday parties. In a certain university, she found that female professors performed 8.5 hours less research per week than male professors due to their undertaking “non-promotable” tasks.
Through surveys she found that when women consider turning down requests for non-promotable tasks, they focus on the negative career consequences and how people will perceive them, whereas the men evaluate whether or not it’s a good use of their time. As a result, women feel more worn out and worried when making these decisions.
Through a series of experiments that involved clicking a button in groups of three (eliminating the ‘competence’ factor), these three conclusions slapped me across the face:
1. Women volunteer more for non-promotable tasks.
2. People (both men and women) ask women to do more non-promotable tasks.
3. When asked to do a non-promotable task, women are more likely to say yes.
The finding that was most surprising in the experiments was that when no women were present, men stepped up and perform just as well in the group setting. So it’s not like the women were saving the day or anything. Therefore, we should recognize that just because someone says they will and can perform a task does not mean that they should perform the task.
Vesterlund’s research was illuminating and has been the one thing I’ve been preaching to everybody who’s asked me what I learned in this conference.
Vesterlund and a few colleagues have started a “No Club” where they get together once a month over wine, talk about decisions they have to make, and discover what triggers them to say yes to things. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea!

Fran Zone‘s “Smart Out Loud” seminar gave us a taste of what she means when she says: “Don’t do more; be more.” She rejects what she calls “sweat equity.” She gave us tips on how to make a better first impression, how to leave a memory, and how to appear more credible. She encouraged omitting the words “trying” and “hoping” from our vocabulary and instead using “focused on” and “committed to.” Finally, I liked her play on words when she said that women “audition” for roles whereas men act with “audacity.”

One of the final highlights of the conference was the panel of representatives from Chevron, Genentech, HP, Walmart, Silicon Valley Bank, and Oracle. I won’t go into all the details, but I will share the one striking thing I heard in this panel: that we need to recognize when we need help and ask for it. There were several anecdotes of women resigning from their companies because they didn’t see part-time or flexible hours as an option, and didn’t think to ask for it. The companies ended up finding an arrangement that worked for them. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Coming out of the conference, I commit to the following:
– Take more risks to stretch myself, in areas that would improve my career.
– Think more critically about the purpose of every task I’m doing, both in and outside of work, and be less afraid to say ‘no.’
– Recognize when I feel self-doubt and learn to ignore it.
– Pass on what I’ve learned to more of my coworkers and friends, both male and female.
– Bring more people with me to this conference (or a similar one) next year.

Finally, if you want to read more, the keynote speakers in the conference recommended that everybody read the recent article The Confidence Gap. Having read it, what will you change in your life?

Thoughts On Being Bicultural

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

The two of us laughed at her when my cousin asked if Americans have a different sense of humor than Turks. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized the appropriateness of her question. I was staying with her and her husband for the night, and we were watching funny YouTube videos; things that had gone viral that I hadn’t heard of before, like the Serkan is my Girl video, made by two cousins to annoy their Uncle Serkan, that took Turkey by storm. [It’s been 3 days since I saw the video, and it’s still stuck in my head.] When I tried to think of funny American videos I could show them in return, I was at a loss; it wasn’t the right mood for that type of humor.

It was then that I remembered how I felt during my first few years in the United States, around the age of 10, when I didn’t always quite “get” what was so funny about some of my classmates’ jokes, and when my awkward humor that was well-received by my friends in Turkey was often received in the new world with a disapproving quirk of an eyebrow. With time, it clicked, and it helped that I’m often easily amused. Fast forward to a few months ago: while I’d been laughing with tears for over an hour at funny Turkish Vines while I should have been doing homework, I suddenly realized that most of my American friends would look at me funny if I shared these with them, and the magic would be lost.

I feel lucky and even blessed to be able to appreciate the humor in both sides, but it also feels bittersweet. The best way to describe it is that I feel like I’m sharing part in a big inside joke.


The next day I found myself in my grandmother’s kitchen in Tekirdağ, staring at her bulletin board full of photos of her immediate family: herself, her late husband, me, my parents, my aunts, my uncles, and my cousins at various stages of our lives, some of whom are no longer with us. Having been transplanted from Turkey at a small age to spend the next 20+ years in California, it’s become increasingly jarring to me when I face my relatives and realize our facial similarities. I’m used to feeling “exotic” for most of my existence, and the annual visits home are becoming forceful reminders of where I came from. It’s like I’m back where I belong, but not quite. Something is amiss; a part of me has changed too much. The change is indescribable with words further than these.

The following day I am on a bus from Tekirdağ to Istanbul. The trip is only two hours, and I watch the Sea of Marmara coast in the heavy rain. The Tekirdağ visits always invoke a deeper kind of introspection, because unlike the modern, sprawling Istanbul, it’s a more modest city with a small-town feel. Life is simpler there. People know each other. My relatives’ worries, perspectives, and aspirations are different from my own. What do I talk about with them? Enough things. If I were there for an extended period, surely the conversations would be deeper. I’m already too full from eating Tekirdağ’s traditional meatballs before being dropped off at the bus station an hour and a half earlier, but I consume the tea and cake they’ve handed out while reflecting on the past two days, watching the rain hit the windows on the bus to Istanbul.

Madame de Marelle

Friday, March 7th, 2014


I finished the novel Mahrem by Elif Şafak the other day (apparently it’s been translated to English, but according to the reviews, not very well) and was inspired to draw this little scene from the story. I enjoyed the vividness and grotesqueness of some of the imagery, the “seeing and being seen” theme that dominated the book, and the way it all tied together in the end. I have so many new perspectives on things now, and so the book has climbed to one of my favorites by this Turkish author.

Now, a little bit about the drawing. The point wasn’t to create a masterpiece; rather, it was something to occupy my time and get me to play with shapes and colors while I listened to an online lecture for about an hour. No furniture, no shadows, no details; too lazy for all that. Give me a break; I haven’t drawn anything substantial in years, so I consider this just a sketch and a half-success. Anything that moves me enough to make me draw these days is something that comes close to a miracle.

I will update with a higher resolution version once I can access a scanner in the next few weeks.