Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Since living in Istanbul for three years, I’ve enjoyed cooking Turkish food usually once or twice a week at latest home in London.

 

Sometimes, I need to find some special ingredients or Turkish products that I enjoy using such as Turkish olive oil, beyaz peynir, pomegranate molasses, spices etc. Fortunately, we actually do have two small Turkish markets in our neighborhood of Battersea where we live. One of the owners even proudly displays a Turkish flag in his small shop.

 

But awhile back, I decided to venture out to a special Turkish market called Cheam Arena, located in North Cheam, about an hour south of where we live by bike. This store also is close to the London neighborhoods of Morden, Kingston and Epsom. My Turkish friend, Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table, had recommended going to Cheam Arena. But if you don’t live in this area and don’t own a car, then it’s not so easy to reach.

Store front of Cheam Arena in London
Bodrum brand Turkish products

But during the past year of the pandemic, I’ve biked my way around a lot of places in London, so I loaded up my bike with my paniers and went shopping. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Cheam is that a lot of the produce was a bit cheaper than my part of London. For example, lemons cost 5 for 1 pound in Cheam vs 2 for 1 pound in Zone 2 London. The only way I can buy cheaper lemons or any produce is the Saturday street market on Battersea High Street.

 

lemons and limes

But Cheam Arena also sold special produce like sivri biber and dolma biber (great for stuffing), which I don’t often see in more central London.

Turkish sivri and red peppers

The lovely produce alone is enough to make the trek down here.

 

But inside the store, there are tons of other Turkish products that I like such as sucuk, cheeses, less expensive pine nuts and pistachios and olive oil (1 litre for 6 pounds). I also couldn’t resist the freshly baked baklava section and the tubs of olives. Yum!

By the time, I left the store, my backpack was stuffed and so were my paniers. My bike definitely weighed more going back home. I mean, check out my amazing haul!

 Turkish products in London
With all these delicious ingredients, I couldn’t resist putting together a favorite Turkish recipe: 

Ozlem’s Lamb kebabs with pistachios. I served the kebabs with some roasted vegetables and a Turkish-style tomato-herbed salad. If you can find inexpensive, preshelled pistachios, then the recipe comes together more easily.

Turkish pistachio kebabs

Afiyet olsun!


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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Another sign of spring in London usually happens in mid-April, but the year because of our colder than usual spring, English bluebells didn’t start appearing until early May.

Bluebells are native to western Europe, with the United Kingdom being having the densest population.

·       Did you know that nearly half of the world’s population of bluebells is found in the U.K.?

 

·       But please do not pick or step on the bluebells as they are a protected species.

 

·       Also, according to the National Trust, it can take 5-7 years for bluebells to bloom.

Here are a five spots south of the Thames River where you can find pretty bluebells in London.

 

Kew Gardens

A seasonal favorite of mine is Kew Gardens. Thanks to our annual membership, we visit here often. In March and most of April, we visited the gardens nearly every weekend. Finally, on April 27th, I started seeing bluebells on the western side of the gardens and in the woodlands surrounding Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.


Battersea Park

Close to home for us is Battersea Park. Because of Covid restrictions, we’ve spent a lot of time walking, jogging or cycling through the park this past year. You’ll find most of the bluebells near the southwest entrance into the park.

There's another special spot for bluebells at St. Mary's Cemetery in Battersea. I was cycling past here and could see the vibrant bluebells from the road.


Wandle River

I think I’ve cycled more this past year than I ever had in my life. When you spend most of the year either unemployed or furloughed, you find yourself with a lot of free time. The Wandle River is actually a tributary of the Thames in southwest London and actually has a pretty nice cycle/walking path that runs for 12.5 miles, starting near Wandsworth and leading south to East Croydon.

Back in its industrial heyday, the Wandle River was the “hardest working river in London,” with more than 900 mills along its banks. You can still find two water wheels near Merton Abbey Mills and in Morden Hall Park. You’ll find quite a few bluebells in boths of these locations.

Near the end of the Wandle Valley Park trail, you may find some more bluebells near Carshalton Ponds. 


Lesnes Abbey

Aftter living in London for nearly five years, I finally made it over to Lesnes Abbey, a 12th-century monastery founded east of Greenwich. The ruins of this medieval Augustinian abbey stand near the south bank of the Thames and was one of the first places suppressed by Carnidal Wolsey on behalf of King Henry VIII in 1525.

Behind the abbey site is a large area of woodland known as Lesnes Abbey Wood, created from the medieval monastic parkland. This is by far the most impressive area of wooded bluebells that I have ever seen in London. Mark your calendars to see the bluebells here next spring!

From central London, take the train from London Bridge rail station to Abbey Wood and walk to the parkland.

Wimbledon Park

I wasn’t able to get to Wimbledon Park this year, but in the past, I’ve spotted bluebells while walking through the wooded areas. You can’t miss them, but please don’t step on the bluebells.

 

Where is your favorite area to find English bluebells in London or elsewhere in the UK?


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Friday, April 30, 2021

Most of this spring was spent under long-lasting Covid restrictions in London. That has given me more time to appreciate the changing seasons.


I’ve walked and cycled numerous times through our neighborhood of Battersea in southwest London as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. I’ve seen the snowdrops appear in January and February followed by sunny daffodils, then bright pink cherry blossoms in April and finally the English bluebells and purple wisteria blossoms. The latter usually appearing in April through May.

The New York Times recently posed an interesting question: "After a year of languishing, New York City is flourishing. More so than usual?...Have the flowers changed or have we?"

I know that I've changed after experiencing life in a pandemic as well as several lockdowns. I’ve been waiting for my life to return to normal. I also know I've had more time to notice the spring flowers around me. How about you?

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

London rarely gets snow, but this year, we were in for a snowy treat at the end of January and nearly an entire week in early February 2021. 

 

When it snowed on Sunday morning on January 24th, it felt like a fairytale. We wandered over to Battersea Park and then over to Brompton Cemetery in Chelsea. Londoners acted like little kids out in the magical dusting of snow. Soon, the dusting turned into fat, fluffy snowflakes. 

 

Even though I grew up with several winter months of snowfall in the US, I still enjoy having a few days of snow. The several days of snow we experienced in London was just enough to (almost) forget that we're still living through an international pandemic.