A Year in Lockdown: Updates from Istanbul

My last post was about the first round of Istanbul’s lockdowns nearly a year ago (Baking to Stay Sane). Baking was then, and throughout this entire year has been, a source of stress relief. It’s a time where I can completely focus and forget the outside world while also fulfilling a need for creative expression.

However, as the months dragged on from 2020 and into 2021, I found myself less inspired to sit down and write here. Instead I turned to daily posting on Instagram. Quick updates, snippets of my day-to-day cooking trials, and scenes from walks around my neighborhood were easier to post there. For anyone interested, I am still posting daily on Insta, sharing kitchen creations, as well as life around the big city.

Check me out there on Instagram: Girl_Meets_Turkey

I am also excited to announce that I am involved in a few new projects.  

The first is a collaboration with another blog, Aftertaste Blog, based out of Bologna, Italy.  It’s run by an Italian friend of mine, who I met in Istanbul, along with her boyfriend and another close friend of theirs.  They share food memories and recipes of their favorite Italian dishes.  Some recipes are traditional, recalling moments with their grandmothers.  Other articles are more modern “eating out” experiences.  They approached me about transitioning their site into English and along with that, I also have my own articles featured as well.  

Here are the links to my two articles published there:
Each article contains a recipe.

1: Biscuits Biscuits: A lesson in language and carbs

2: Ramadan Pide Ramadan Pride: A bread to mark a special occasion

The next project that I’m very excited to announce is that I’m writing a book! Written together with close friend and fellow Istanbul expat, Matt Rasmussen, it’s both a cookbook and travel book of sorts. Matt was an amazing source of comfort and friendship throughout this past year.  He and I both share a love for cooking that others find crazy.  The best example of this would be that Matt once showed up to my small apartment with a paintbrush and proceeded to meticulously paint thin layers of batter to eventually form pastry on a heated pan.  This is how we cook. We sent thousands of photos and voice messages back and forth, championing each other with our creations during lockdowns.  Naturally, this book had to happen, if nothing else than to serve as a memory for ourselves.  It’s a sort of ‘love letter’ to our lives as expats.  We tell stories of our travels and our experiences, through food.  It’s in its final stages and I’ll be sharing more soon. 

Finally, I want to share the “YatesChix Cooking Club’‘ which was born during transcontinental lockdowns and gave me a weekly dose of family that I needed.  Myself, my mom, cousin, and aunt began a weekly video chat cooking session.  We would text throughout the week to decide on recipes, ingredients, methods (sometimes even videos were made to teach difficult techniques), and of course arrange the time.  We were working with two, sometimes three different time zones.  Whatever they made for breakfast in the states, I would eat for dinner. These calls would last hours… with chaos and mishaps in between. But we learned so much about each other and for me at least, I didn’t feel so far away.  We also gathered all the recipes for every call we had into a cookbook that we sent out to family members. We dedicated it to Big Mama, whom I learned everything about cooking from.

And so…. that brings us to lockdown here…. in Istanbul. 

Here’s a look back at the past year.  

Istanbul continued being in full lockdown right up until my birthday in June. That first lockdown, the big one, became kind of routine. I woke up early, got dressed, made my bed, cleaned the house.  These were small things I did every day to make myself feel better. My roommate was with me at the time and we would exercise in the living room, make weekly grocery orders, and binge-watch series on Netflix. As summer arrived and lockdowns were lifted nearly everyone here ran to summer rentals along the Aegean Coastline.  I however remained in Istanbul for most of the summer.  Too afraid to travel to the states, I sought comfort in daily walks along the seaside and more cooking adventures. I discovered how to pickle and preserve everything as well as how to make various fruit liqueurs.  My roommate went back to the UK and it was the first time I was really on my own. In August, Matt and I rented a car and headed down to Datça for a few days of relaxed quiet at the beach.  A perfect road trip, a great way to feel rested and ready for the new school year.  Restaurants and bars were open briefly with tables spaced out for social distancing.  It was a short window that we didn’t realize was a miraculous blessing.  Had we known what the fall would bring we might have had many more nights out at various rooftop bars.  

My work day… SO glad Starbucks delivers… Blue was a frequent guest member of my classroom as well.

The school year began online with rumours circulating of lockdowns returning. The rumours soon after became a reality. My friends and I dubbed this lessened lockdown as “Lockdown Lite” as it wasn’t as intense as the one we faced before summer. Each time big announcements were made by the government, my ‘whats app’ groups would fill with messages translating the new laws. These restrictions would sometimes be announced giving only an hour’s notice to run to the market or place orders online. For work, that meant constantly rewriting lesson plans and the curriculum program. It also meant constant new timetables to follow.

In the fall, curfews were mandated, which meant that we had to be home by a certain hour every night. Restaurants and bars were back to “take away” only.  This however spawned a new trend that I hope will continue once life gets back to “normal”.  Trying to find a way to survive, bars started selling take away cocktails, most importantly, take away mulled wine.  That became my favorite way to spend the afternoon with friends.  We would grab mulled wine and walk around the seaside.  

I went to school for two weeks in October to give exams.  It was the first time meeting my new students.  It was also the only time I saw them all year.  I hosted a much smaller “Friendsgiving” than in year’s past, only a few people I had been in close contact with, but I was grateful nonetheless to be able to hold on to this tradition. 

New restrictions were announced in December and weekends went back to full lockdowns.  As Christmas neared, our usual trip to Athens was most definitely postponed with Greece’s borders closed.  Matt came for “Christmas Lockdown” at my place as I had put up a tree.  It was the first time in 10 years here that I’ve ever been ‘home’ for Christmas or that I’ve ever put up a tree. We spent the weekend recreating all our favorite meals from Athens and pretending we were on holiday.  It was actually really nice… considering. While I missed the now traditional “Greek Christmas” that I’ve adopted living here, I also really enjoyed not feeling pressured to spend the day as a tourist and found this cozy holiday dinner really relaxing.

“Lockdown Lite” continued up until March, and then was suddenly lifted to allow restaurants and bars to open. However, this lasted briefly as the number of cases went back up. We then had an 18 day full lockdown over the Ramadan Bayram Holiday in which even the sale of alcohol was restricted! Don’t worry, the first big lockdown taught me all about how to order crates of wine from local wineries, so at least I had that covered.

We are now currently back to Lockdown Lite. The vaccine has also arrived in Istanbul but it’s been rolling out slowly. At the moment, people over 55 can be vaccinated along with teachers over 40 . The one time in my life that I was upset I wasn’t “old enough”… unfortunately I’m still waiting. It seems I won’t go back to school to teach ‘face to face’ either. It’s crazy that I have never met some students in person this year. In some ways I feel very close to them. They have seen my living room, they have all met my cat. However, in many ways, I feel that we didn’t have the same connection at all. As summer nears, I will hopefully be able to finally travel to the states. Right now, I continue to wait and see what happens. It hasn’t been an easy year. However, I have found many beautiful things that I appreciate. I am so lucky that my friends and family were all ok during this time period. I feel more connected to my family than ever before. I also learned how to sit in the quiet moments alone and take time for myself. Life took a “pause” from the usual chaos and this slower pace allowed me to see things clearly. I learned not to take life, and human connection, for granted. In a strange way, these lockdowns helped me understand myself better, for which I am grateful.

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