Speak, Food Memory…
In some of my happiest and earliest memories, I am in my German immigrant grandmother Grete’s kitchen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with its pale yellow walls and a white-enameled cast-iron stove on which she kept a percolator-style coffee pot hot in its thick quilted cozy. A table sat squarely in the center of the room covered in a yellow-flowered vinyl tablecloth.
From my chair, I looked into the tiny garden where she and grandpa grew cucumbers, carrots, parsley and dill, which they turned into salads and pickles. If time would permit me, I would leap through my memories and go back to that kitchen now.
At Grandma’s knee, and that of my mom, Dorothy, and Polish aunties, I learned how to peel a potato, whip cream, cut butter into flour, make pie dough, and braise a cut of meat. My mom, however, was seeking something modern and sophisticated. By her side, I helped her master the Art of French Cooking.
I became quite good at making Pate a Choux for the cream puff shells we piped onto a baking sheet, still one of my favorite treats. From that basic recipe, I learned to make savory gougeres, little bites that go well with a glass of champagne. We've given them a twist in our Anatolian Kitchen and you can find the recipe on page xx of the Tree of Life cookbook.
My interest in food turned Technicolor in 1982 and I never looked back once I found the cuisine of my dreams in Greece, what is now called Mediterranean cooking. On the Greek Island of Kos, a short boat ride from the Turkish coast, I was invited into the kitchens of our friends.
I remember a deep blue and shell-pink eastern Aegean morning when I went rabbit hunting with our friends who managed to catch two plump beasts. Back in the kitchen we helped clean the little critters, picking out buckshot before marinating the pieces in olive oil and lemon and grilling them on an open flame. Whatever remorse I had over the barbarity of our actions was soon mitigated by the fine flavor of the meat redolent of spring thyme and accompanied by thimblefuls of ouzo, the Turkish version of which is called raki.
Enamored, enchanted, I returned home to write a cookbook full of stories and recipes based on the food we had eaten and the people we had met, and which I never published. But the effort gave me a lifelong love for literary cookbooks.
For me, writing and cooking AND EATING, particularly the flavors of the Mediterranean, transport me into a sensual world that began in the kitchens of my childhood, where the affection of my elders and the solid technique I learned there melds with the flavors of the Mediterranean into the dishes I love most.
In an adult fiction-writing course at Community College of Philadelphia, I met a group of women who became the Meridian Writers Collective; and together, over many meals and glasses of wine, we organized one of the first reading series in Philadelphia and ultimately published limited edition handmade chapbooks by established and up and coming writers. I went on to co-found the literary website Wild River Review and a small publishing house, Wild River Books & Wild River Legacy.
During those years, I traveled frequently to Italy, Greece and Turkey where I met Angie and where for the ten years we traveled to all of Turkey’s borders absorbing the rich cultural diversity and gathering recipes.
Angie and I went on to co-author our memoir Anatolian Days & Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints, the first book to be published by Wild River Books in 2012.
My essay, Turkish American Food, the first about Turkish cooking in America, was published in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2014). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
For me, trying a new recipe and learning thestory of its creation is reason enough to gather together with a group of friends. And who, especially after a lovely bite of a meze or two, and a glass of wine to boot, doesn’t love to tell a good story?
Freelance writer and illustrator, Angie Brenner, is a contributor to the online magazine, Wild River Review, and has covered PEN World Voices Festival and Los Angeles Times Festival of Books events, international topics, current events, political issues, and author interviews such as those with Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, and Pico Iyer. Brenner is currently publishing a cookbook with co-author Joy Stocke, Tree of Life, Turkish Home Cooking for the American Table, through Quarto Publishing Group/Burgess Lea Press which is scheduled for release in the spring of 2017. Her first book, Anatolian Days and Nights, A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints, published in March 2012, is a travel memoir co-written with Wild River Review founder, Joy Stocke.
Brenner left the security of a managerial job to follow her passion for travel and created a travel planning service, Journeys by Angie, where she designed personalized travel itineraries for clients that included researching history, art, and cuisine. Later, she bought and operated a travel bookstore, Word Journeys, in Del Mar, CA. For nearly ten years, Brenner nurtured her inner travel bibliophile by buying and selling travel literature. She closed her store in order to follow her dreams to travel and write.
With a business background, Brenner worked in the health care industry in Southern California for several years, and later as Business Manager for a public school district. Yet the love of travel and a curiosity of foreign cultures led her to explore Europe, East Africa, Vietnam, and South America. And, for over twenty-five years, she traveled the four corners of Turkey, becoming immersed in all aspects of Turkish culture from food, to politics and religion.
It was during a research trip to Cyprus and Turkey that Brenner began to sketch and watercolor, and later created the illustrations that are included in her memoir. Brenner lives, writes, cooks and facilitates yoga classes in her hometown of Julian, California.