Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tis the season for fresh melon.

This morning, we walked into the kitchen and we smelled the sweet smell of ripe honeydew. We had purchased a large kavun for 4 TL yesterday at the pazar in Besiktas. I cut the melon in large pieces and we enjoyed it with breakfast wrapped around some Italian salami. Delicious!

Next, I'm thinking melon limonata? :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

The blogging world still seems relatively new to me at times.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since I started this site as a way to keep in touch with people back in the U.S. and share our stories from Turkey.

So I was surprised and delighted to have been nominated to participate in the blogging Seven Links Project. I was invited by Claudia at A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, a fellow Istanbul blogger, whom I have yet to meet, but hopefully will once the summer settles down. I would love to explore the markets of Kadıköy with her. =)

This project was initiated by Katie at Tripbase (See her blog post here.) Katie said:

“The idea is simple: bloggers publish 7 links from their blog to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.”

It’s a way to recycle and revisit those old posts, or maybe you’ll get to read it for the first time. Either way I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

My 7 Links:

My most beautiful post:  How does one try to be modest and chose for this category? I think I’ll have to choose a more recent post, Making Cheesecake with Friends. The cheesecake photo turned out perfect against the red background and the sun was shining through my apartment windows. I’ve been trying to improve my photography skills since I started this blog and I hope it shows.

My most popular post:  So far, it’s been A Hint of Paris, with 240 hits since February. To date, this post has received the most pageviews - maybe because it talks about the famed Laduree. Paris holds a special place in my heart because that's where my husband proposed to me in 2009.
May 2009 - only 2 1/2 short days to spend in Paris,
but it was worth it!
My most controversial post:  Since I write about food and travel, there isn’t much controversy in my life. However, if I would’ve have written how I truly felt about Dubai as an independent woman, then I might have stirred up some trouble. Let’s just say I hope we never get posted to live there.

My most helpful post: I guess I’d have to say the posts about our weekend trip to Edirne. Most expats here have never been and it was such an easy drive outside of Istanbul. In the Edirne posts, I tried to let people know why you should visit this city, especially to see all the wonderful architecture detailed in the mosques and bridges. Road trips are a must!

A post whose success surprises me:  My post about eating Mexican food in Istanbul, entitled Donde esta la comida Mexicana? Surprisingly, this post ranks second as the most popular with 180 hits since November. It still is extremely difficult to find decent Mexican food out in restaurants here, which is why it’s one of the cuisines I like to cook at home. I recently scored some masa harina from an expat who was moving. Empanadas anyone?

A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved:  I was surprised I didn’t get any comments on the Strolling Through Side post. Are people tired of seeing the ancient ruins from our trips? I hope not. The area of Side was a bit mysterious to me, and I enjoyed seeing the red poppies add such vibrant color to the background.

The post I am most proud of:  This is an even more difficult category. For myself personally, I would choose Creating cookies with children. At Christmas, I was happy to impart my knowledge onto my young niece and nephew when we were back in the states with our families. Family and friends have become even more important to us now that we live 5,000+ miles away from everyone in the U.S.
Christmas 2010: Aunt Joy spending time with our niece and nephew
And now I hand the baton off to the following:

Xani and Erin at Black Coffee and a Donut. Two sisters and good friends of ours that love to eat and cook in our former stomping grounds in Baltimore.

Sheryl, a great photographer and expat friend in Istanbul, at The Altered Passport

Samantha, an amazing artist and photographer currently traveling in Nepal, at Harika

Danielle, a friend and fellow cook back in the US, at Consumed My Culinary Adventure

Xiaolu, writes a blog I admire for the delicious food photos and recipes, at 6 Bittersweets

So here are THE RULES:

1.       The blogger is nominated to take part by another blogger.

2.       He/She publishes his/her 7 links on their own blog, one link for each category.

3.       He or she then nominates up to 5 more bloggers to take part.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Since I did very little cooking these past two weeks, I wanted to make something healthy for dinner tonight.

My first inspiration came from right outside our apartment windows. My basil plants finally have grown big enough so I could harvest some of the leaves. I decided to make a summer salad based on lentils, tomatoes and fresh herbs that I often made when I lived in Kansas.

Thanks to the thriving local farmers market and a co-op grocery store in Lawrence, Kansas, I discovered a local cookbook, Rolling Prairie Cookbook, by Nancy O’Connor. The cookbook features fresh fruits and vegetables and utilizing them as much as possible in the kitchen. I fondly looked to a dog-eared page of the “Lentil and feta cheese salad” to refresh my memory.

As with any salad, you can really utilize whatever fresh ingredients you have on hand. Today, I went to the Ulus pazar so my refrigerator was stocked up with plenty of fresh herbs and vegetables. My recipe is not a traditional version of a Turkish yeşil mercimek salatası.
My only advice is to be careful cooking the lentils so as not to overcook them, and to let the lentils thoroughly cool down before you add the herbs and veggies.

Afiyet Olsun!

Yeşil Mercimek Salatası (Green Lentil Salad)

1 c. green lentils (yeşil mercimek), rinsed
2 c. water or chicken stock (I used the stock to give the lentils more flavor.)

2 medium tomatoes, medium chopped
2 cucumbers, sliced in circles
½ small red onion, finely diced
12 Turkish black olives, roughly chopped (Tip: I used a cherry pitter to easily pit the olives.)
2-3 T. fresh basil, chiffonade
2-3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
2-3 T. fresh dill, chopped
TT salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. olive oil
1 T. nar ekşili sos (pomegranate molasses)

Optional: add crumbled beyaz peynir to the salad right before serving.

1. In a medium-sized pot, add the lentils and water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.
2. While the lentils are cooking, prep the vegetables and herbs. Mix everything together, season with salt and pepper.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and nar ekşili sos. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the ingredients. Set the mixture aside in the refrigerator.
4. When the lentils are done cooking, rinse with cold water. Strain. Let the lentils cool completely before mixing with the fresh ingredients. Refrigerate the mixed salad for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to mingle together.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It seemed only fitting to end where we had began.

When my American friends arrived two weeks ago, I introduced them to Istanbul via Taksim and Istikal Caddesi. We walked down this pedestrian-only, bustling street, stopping to see the sights such as Cikek Pasajı, Balik  Pazarı, Church of St. Antoine and Galata Tower.
The building of Church of St. Antoine dates to 1913. However, the church
was first established in Istanbul in 1725. 
Last night, Jason and I decided to take our friends back to Taksim for a farewell dinner. We went to a small cafe that we like off of Istikal, feasted on simple etli dürüm (meat wrap sandwiches), patates tava (French fries) and izgara tavuk (grilled chicken) and drank Efes beer. We chatted about the past two weeks we’ve enjoyed together and all the traveling we’ve done. (Luckily, I have a 2-week break to relax before the next set of friends arrive.)

For “dessert,” we were able to talk our friends into trying some yeşil elma nargile (green apple-flavored tobacco in the hookah). Normally, I don’t smoke, but I do enjoy the nargile every now and then when we go out in Istanbul.

Taksim is always full of life and was a fun way to send off our friends back to the states.

Iyi yolcular!
Nightlife on Istikal Caddesi. Next time, I need to get a photo that really captures
the bustling activity here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Since the temperatures have steadily been in the 80s and 90s everywhere we've been in Turkey, dondurma has become my new best friend.

My visitors also have taken a liking to Turkish ice cream, which is a bit chewy or stretchy compared to traditional creamy ice cream. True dondurma is made from sweetened milk and cream and thickened with mastic, an aromatic resin, and salep, produced from a particular orchid root. This procedure makes Turkish dondurma more resistant to melting - a great feature in this heat.

Just look around for these dondurma stands where you'll see the vendors tossing and pulling the ice cream in the air with long-handled paddles. It's entertaining an delicious!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We spent an all-too short weekend in this small, but busy resort town with our visiting friends. Alaçatı is a beach town 70 km. southwest of Izmir and is known for its windsurfing.

We stayed two nights at this quaint hotel called Alaçatı Zeytin Konak Otel. Right now, we are waiting outside in the shade for the huge breakfast spread the staff prepares every morning. It's truly a great find amongst the many hotels here!

Sorry for not writing a lot lately, but I've had a daily busy schedule with my friends. I have a ton of photos I hope to share with you all soon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunrise in Cappadocia, Turkey
This morning, I set my alarm for 6 a.m. so I could dozens of brightly colored hot air balloons fill the sky.

It's truly an amazing sight to see as they lift off over the valley. I can only imagine what it's like to see the area's unique rock formations from a bird's eye view.

For now, I am content to admire the scene with my feet firmly planted on the ground and take pictures. I took this last photo of a few remaining balloons with my phone. (More photos to follow in the near future.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'Amazing, Awesome and Beautiful' are just some of the words my friends have expressed to describe Cappadocia.

I certainly agree!

Today, we spent about 8 hours on a sightseeing tour of the area, which included a bit of hiking in this hot weather. I felt a little faint at times, so we plan to start our own hike of the Rose Valley earlier tomorrow. I will post more photos when we return to Istanbul.

Today's little joys:

Handmade doll for my niece - 5 TL.

Sharing a bottle of local white wine while sitting outside of our hotel room - 30 TL.

Guided tour from a Turkish man who grew up in the area and knows the history - 90 TL.

Ending the day covered head to toe in tiny bubbles in the hamam - priceless.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Driving through this ancient volcanic landscape is breathtaking.

This is my second visit to this central region in Turkey - called Kapadokya or Cappadocia. My friends expressed interest in wanting to see this unique area so we are touring the sights for 2 more days.

Today, I drove for the first time in Turkey! It was just for an hour from the airport in Kayseri to Goreme.  Still, I had to reteach my brain how to use a manual car and stop at a gas station so I could figure out how to reverse. Fun times! (I haven't owned a car since I moved to NYC in 2004.)

I'm off to catch up on my sleep. Tomorrow, we have a full day of hiking and sightseeing planned.

Stay tuned.

Along the winding coast of Bozcaada, you encounter many koy (coves) like this one pictured. We found these nooks perfect for a swim, climbing along the rocks to explore or just dipping our toes in the slightly crisp Aegean Sea.

Here, the water is amazingly crystal clear along the shallow shores. At one point, Jason and my friend's husband walked out about 150 feet before they couldn't touch the sea floor anymore.

We were happy we had our car so we could just drive and stop wherever we wanted. However, we did see several dolmus stop near the beaches.

Bozcaada definitely is a way to completely get away from the daily hustle and bustle of the big city.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Perched near the edge of the island's western cliffs, we watched the sunset over the Aegean Sea last night in Bozcaada.

We toasted a glass of Turkish Talay dry white wine to the immense reddish-orange orb. We sat on our picnic blanket and chatted with our friends while we enjoyed the moment.

I could easily stay on this small island for a whole week!

Friday, July 15, 2011

I am ready to relax in the sun and drink some Turkish wine surrounded by vineyards on a small island in the Aegean Sea this weekend.

Tonight, we are boarding the ferryboat bound from Yenikapi in Istanbul to Bandirma. From there, we will drive southwest along the coast about 2.5 hours until we reach the port in Geyikli, passing near the ruins of Troy along the way. Then, we will take a second, smaller ferryboat to get to the small Turkish island of Bozcaada - also known as Tenedos. It will be about midnight by the time we arrive.

We've been wanting to visit this little-known island, at least outside of Turkey, since we moved to Istanbul.

For centuries, Bozcaada has been known for its grapes and producing wines. One of our favorite Turkish wines, Corvus, is produced here. Tomorrow, we plan to visit the Corvus winery where we will drink and be merry.


To learn more about  Bozcaada.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Today, my good friends from the U.S. arrived and came bearing gifts. Well, some of the items were more like a grocery list...bacon, powdered ranch dressing, Starbucks instant coffee packets and duty-free booze please.

Steph, whom I've known for 10 years, even stocked up on English magazines for me. I am quite excited to read the latest gossip and peruse through new recipes! I tried to buy an English copy of Glamour once a few months ago at D&R in Istanbul, but dropped it once I heard the sales clerk say 29 TL (about $21). What?

It's good to have old friends visiting us! We have 2 weeks to show them what we love about Turkey. They already had a taste of Turkish pide, lamacun and Efes, so we're off to a good start.

A few trips are planned so please stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

When life gives you a bowl of cherries, bake a cake!

For the past month or so, the pazar stalls have been full of truly bright, pretty-as-a-picture kiraz (cherries). Every week, I buy a half kilo just so I can eat the kiraz plain or once in awhile, pitted and mixed into my yogurt. Oh, I guess I did make a classic French claufoutis one weekend and a cherry compote as well.
This weekend, while I baked the dulce de leche cupcakes, I set aside the remaining cake batter. I had nearly 4 dozen mini cupcakes already so I figured that was plenty. I dug out one of my round 9-inch cake pans, pitted a handful of cherries, placed them in bottom of the parchment paper-lined pan and poured the remaining cake batter on top.

The end result is a dense, brown sugar-vanilla cake studded with fresh cherries. The cake probably could use a few more cherries and a bit of tweaking, but it still is a good summer-time treat. It would be even better with some homemade ice cream if I had the time!

Today, I’m bringing the cake to a luncheon I’m going to with some of the other American expat ladies. I hope they enjoy it too!

Afiyet Olsun!
The cherry cake takes the stage on my newly, gifted cake plate designed
by Turkish cartoonist Behiç Ak, available at Paşabahçe Mağazaları in Istanbul.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I think the Turks know how to cook eggplant more than 100 different ways.

This popular, mor vegetable is used in salads, in mezes, soups and main dishes. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen eggplant used in desserts yet. I’m sure every Turkish cook has a special eggplant recipe or two hidden in his/her apron.
Beautiful, baby eggplants! Each one was about 4 to 6 inches long.
In America, I never enjoyed eating eggplant except for eggplant parmigiana, which is really an excuse to cover this bland vegetable with tomato sauce and cheese.

Here in Turkey, my favorite way to enjoy eggplant is part of the meze course known as patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad). This dish is like a puree of roasted eggplant, mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, and sometimes garnished with tomatoes or roasted peppers.

But my new favorite way to cook eggplant at home is karnıyarık, which literally translates to split belly. The “belly” of the eggplant is split down the center,  stuffed with a spicy meat and tomato filling and then roasted a second time in the oven.

I learned how to make karnıyarık thanks to a cooking class I took in May with Selin Rozanes, an Istanbul native and owner of Turkish Flavours. The eggplant has a wonderful roasted flavor and a nice blend of spices from the meat filling. Garnish with yogurt and you are good to go.

Summer is a perfect time to make this dish as piles of beautiful purple eggplant are available at your local farmers’ market or at the pazars here in Turkey.

Now, I only have 99 more ways to learn how to cook patlıcan!

Afiyet Olsun!

Karnıyarık (Turkish Split-Belly Eggplant)
Adapted from Selin Rozanes of Turkish Flavours

4 medium long and skinny eggplant or several small ones (I roasted both sizes in two separate glass baking dishes.)

1 T. sunflower oil
200 g. lean ground beef (kontrafile yağsız kıyma)
1 med. onion, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 T. tomato paste diluted with ½ cup of water
1 T. cumin
1 T. Ottoman spice or paprika
1 ½ tsp. sugar
TT salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ c. or a bit more of chopped parsley (I added a bit of chopped dill too.)
Garnish: sliced tomatoes and strips of sweet green peppers

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F/200C.
2. Wash and peel eggplants lengthwise with strips. Brush each eggplant with sunflower oil. Make a slit down the middle of each one, but do not pierce it all the way through. This where you stuff the meat filling later. Place the eggplant in a glass baking dish in a single layer.
3. Cook the eggplant until tender, about 15 to 20+ minutes, depending on the size of your eggplant. Rotate the eggplant while cooking so it cooks evenly.
4. While the eggplant is baking, make the filling. Using a medium-sized sauce pan, heat the sunflower oil. Sauté the onion until tender; add the garlic and cook a few more minutes.
5. Then add the ground beef and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste mixture, cumin, Ottoman spice or paprika, sugar, salt, freshly ground black pepper, parsley and dill. Continue stirring until most of the water is absorbed and remove from heat.
A spoonful of Ottoman spice, which kind of looks and tastes like pul biber.
6. Slightly shape the eggplant with your fingers or a spoon to open the “bellies” so you can stuff them with the meat mixture. Place a tomato slice and two strips of green peppers (as seen in my photos) on top of the eggplant.
7. Pour the tomato sauce into baking dish around the eggplant.
**For tomato sauce, whisk together 1 T. tomato paste and 1 T. pepper paste (or acı biber salçası) with 1 cup of hot water.
8. Continue roasting the eggplants for about 10-15 more minutes until you see that the tomatoes and green peppers are baked through.
9. Garnish the eggplant with a dollop of yogurt. Serve hot with rice pilaf or simply a salad like we did.
Here's what the baby eggplants looked like when they were done roasting.
For serving, two eggplants were a perfect portion for me.