Simit RingFour years ago at my women-only gym, the middle-aged Turkish women I did crunches with talked about pastries. It reminded me of my first summer in Turkey, where instead of crunches, my neighbors would knit or crochet in our garden while talking about baked goods.

Is there no bad time or place to talk about pastries?

My vocabulary has become peppered with the Turkish versions of pastry dough (börek), cake (pasta), and salty or sweet cookies (tuzlu and tatlı, respectively). Baked sesame seed rings (sımıt) are a daily part of our life.Eat, and then work it off. Bonding in the form of locker-room chat. On the aerobic floor, commiseration over leg lifts and latent stomach muscles. Chats about tattoos, taboos, and domestic routines.Food was my initiation into Turkey – hours in my mother-in-law’s kitchen taught me the aromas and textures that filled the Turkish table – but my (now CrossFit box) gym in Turkey is a social sphere of my own choosing.

Pastries for me these days must meet some vigorous requirements (gluten-free, sugar-free, grain-free, and fun-freeor so everyone else says) and when I do indulge in standard fare, I pay the price for it with poor digestion, this weird itchy skin thing, and a lot of griping that scares off friendly people, but I have made some incredible edible discoveries with almond flour and baking soda. I have also discovered that I don’t need the pastry fix like before. The gym fix? That is ongoing.

Fast-forward four years and tonight I am doing a core exercise with a newbie woman who makes it twenty seconds out of the forty five needed to hold the pose before dropping her legs, taking a breather, and starting up again. She looks distraught, but committed. I am so proud of her – 20 seconds is no small victory. I smile her onward – you can do it! When we finish, I tell her, Bende yapamadım sekiz ay once. Çoooook kötü yaptım.” Basically: I sucked bad in the beginning, too.” I tell her to ask Fatih Hoca if she needs proof. She grabs her stomach – But I have all of this! I grab mine, too. So did I!

We smile at each other and stretch out in companionable silence. I just know we’re going to be best gym buddies.

And here’s a little secret: her squats are soooo much better than mine were when I started. One day I’ll tell her and we can laugh about it together. Maybe over a grain-free, sugar-free, dairy free pastry.


The Taste of Initiation was originally published on