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The Turk, His Beans, and Me

ImageA little over six years ago, when I was taking a round-the-world trip as the New York Times’ “Frugal Traveler,” I happened to spend several days working at an organic apple orchard in the undulating hills of Turkey’s Anatolia region. The experience was both weird and wonderful: There was no one on the farm but the farmer, a 55-year-old former engineer named Kemal Görgün, his cat, Simi, and me, and Kemal spoke no English but the words yes, no, okay, and wow.

Over the course of my stay, Kemal and I grew unexpectedly close—or as close as two people can who have almost no way of communicating. Our days were full of tending to the apple trees, driving through the area’s hills, having sweet tea with his farmer friends, and playing backgammon on his terrace in the evenings. The story I produced out of my time there was one of the most popular I’d ever written. (Go on, read it here.)

One of the things that stayed with me ever since, besides Kemal’s generous nature, was his approach to cooking. Essentially, he’d chop up a lot of vegetables, put them in a pot over very low heat, and leave them slowly stewing while we were working in the fields. By the time we returned for lunch, the dish would be done, and we’d eat it with loads of fresh, crusty bread and thick local yogurt with a mineral tang.

My favorite of these rural “set it and forget it” dishes involved cranberry beans, also known as borlotti, and at summer’s end here in New York, when the runner beans show up at farmers’ markets in their long green, white, and red pods, I make it as often as possible. Even my wife, Jean, who won’t eat beans unless they’re sweet red beans served over crushed ice, loves them. Here’s the recipe (serves 4):

Apple Orchard Cranberry Beans

  • 2 cups freshly shelled cranberry beans
  • 1 large red or white onion, chopped
  • 3 (or more) cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon roughly ground dried Turkish chili (optional)
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (American, Turkish, or Greek)

To prepare: Put everything but the parsley and yogurt in a saucepan, along with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water. Set over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cook at least an hour, stirring if you remember to, until beans are soft. Then stir in the chopped parsley.

To serve: Divide the beans evenly among four bowls, along with all of the cooking liquid. Garnish each with a big dollop of yogurt, and serve with fresh, crusty bread to sop up the juices.

Wolf-Boy Seeks Job

So, yesterday I sent out the following e-mail to a ton of people, and today I realized I should probably post it here as well:

This is a weird position for me to be in, but here it is: After nearly eight years of freelancing as a writer—for the New York Times, Saveur, Afar, and many other publications—and just three days after I sent my book manuscript in to my publisher, I’m looking for a job. Yes, a real, regular full-time job with a salary, and maybe even benefits.

Ideally, this would be a writing gig focused on travel and food, with freedom to tackle the other weird subjects I get obsessed with: maps, running, television, skateboarding, the Internet, parenting, the small, confounding aspects of life in this city. But I would also like to have a unicorn and, if it’s not too much trouble, universal health care. Which is to say I’m also quite interested in editing (in relation to any of the above-named subjects), and making use of both my experience and my network of talented writer friends.

I don’t necessarily expect that you have a job to offer. I’m not so presumptuous. But you may very well know someone (who knows someone) who is looking for someone to develop a travel section, or oversee food coverage, or just generally edit a broad variety of features, in print or online (or both). And that’s the kind of thing I’d like to get involved in. 

There’s also the possibility, I guess, of getting a job outside of journalism, though what that might be I can’t exactly imagine. What could the author of stories like this and this do besides write more, similar stories? Whatever it ends up being, I’d even be willing to relocate outside of New York if the prospect is intriguing enough.

Also: I don’t want you to think I’m making this decision because I need a job. No, I want one. I’ve loved writing as a freelancer—freelancing has allowed me to travel the world and, almost as important, write what I want to write about. But lately, I’ve felt the pull of civilization, of routine, of participating in activities and projects with larger groups of talented people, and I want in. After so many years in the wilderness, office life seems almost exotic. Do I belong there? I don’t know. I feel a little like a boy raised by wolves who suddenly wants a seat at the table for Sunday dinner. I may eat with my hands at first, and fight you for a chance to gnaw the leg bones, but pretty soon I will learn your ways.

So, that’s about it. I suppose now I’ll have to put together a résumé and organize links to my stories; you should be able to find those things here: <>. 

TL;DR: Matt wants a real job, writing or editing (or “other”), print or online, in NYC or elsewhere.