Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two or three juicy red currants for me. A few for the bowl. Repeat.

Today, I harvested a good bowlful of sunripened red currants from my mom's garden here in Nebraska. I think these bushes are as old as me! I used to pick them the same way when I was a child.

For as long as I can remember, my mom has always had strawberries, apples, pears, ground cherries, gooseberries, tart cherries, concord grapes, and/or raspberries in her garden. My mom and grandma used to can jars and jars of fruit and store them in the basement to make it through the long, bitter cold winters here.

Over the years, several of the fruit trees have died, and the garden has shrunk in size. It's still bigger than mom can really handle now since dad needs full-time assistance. So I was happy to get my hands dirty and help out since I've been home.

I can't really take these currants back to Istanbul, though I think the Turks would love these sweet-n-tart berries. (Turks do eat a lot of tart fruit like the green erik and green raw almonds.) Guess I'll eat them by the handful while I can!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Perfectly captured American flag with the sun rising in the background.

Happy Memorial Day from Nebraska!

Today, our American flags will be flapping in the wind everywhere.

Today, we remember those brave men and women who gave their lives in service to their country.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and a day for reflection for the freedom we have gained.

We'll be spending the day together as a family, even my brother will be joining us later. I'm grilling some lemon chicken and making a healthy parsley-potato salad.

It's a good day to spend with family. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nebraska - My dad has always been a sociable person.

When I was a child/teenager, I would get embarrassed because he would talk to complete strangers. But now I can understand. I've become that same sociable person.

Twice this past week, I wheeled dad over to his favorite cafe so he could be his chatty self. All the waitresses and several of the regulars know my dad at The Farmer's Daughter. You could see his whole face light up as he got talking with some of the gals. I think he needs some of this emotional healing as well.

Oh and we also came for the food at this 40-year-old local cafe. There's still nothing like a simple hot roast beef and gravy sandwich, a greasy Reuben smothered in sauerkraut (for me only) or the daily home cooked special.

On Friday, I ordered the BBQ rib special and it was lip smackin' delicious!

This is one small-town haunt that will always bring a smile to your face and fill up your belly.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Naples - Being a pastry lover, I had heard about the ubiquitous Neapolatin pastry in Naples called Sfogliatelle.

And once I tried I bite, that's the only word you need to know when traveling in Naples. Well, pizza as well.

Sfogliatelle has a delicate, crunchy pastry shell shaped like a large clam. The filling is a sweetened ricotta cheese.
Layers of deliciousness!
As soon as I ate one for breakfast, I immediately was wondering how to create that type of layered pastry shell, which reminded me of thin apple slices created by a hand crank device.

Well, if you are traveling in Naples, all you need to know is the word: Sfogliatelle.

Here are several Neapolatin pastry shops recommended by food blogger Katie Parla.
Neapolatin pastries paired perfectly with your cappuccino for breakfast.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

(Getting a little writing done while my dad is resting here on the couch.)

Snow in late April and not too far outside of Istanbul? I couldn't believe it!

On our drive back from Safranbolu to Istanbul, our friends and us decided to take a little detour from the Istanbul-Ankara O-4 (E80) motorway.
Snow on the mountain peaks near Lake Abant Nature Park, Turkey.
We stopped at Abant Gölü (Lake Abant Nature Park), a large freshwater lake about 2 hours southeast of Istanbul.

Our Turkish friend, Murat, said his family used to go on picnics at the lake so he had fond memories of the area. Indeed, we saw many Turkish families setting up their own mangals (small grills) and carrying bags full of food.
 Abant Gölü  definitely seems like a good vacation and excursion spot outside of the city. You can even take a horse ride around the lake or bring your own fishing poles to catch some of the local trout. There also are many different pine trees that make up the dense forests in the park. Apparently, there are several guesthouses in nearby towns as well if you want to stay overnight.
Still the snow on the ground surprised me considering it had warmed up significantly in Istanbul lately. But the nature park's altitude is fairly high at 1,328 meters (4,357 ft.).

I wanted to throw snowballs at my husband for fun. But he jokingly 'threatened' me with "don't start with what you can't finish." So I decided not to play that game right then.
Instead of throwing my snowball at my husband, I threw it in the lake.
 If you are seeking a little R and R, peace and nature outside of Istanbul, then you must visit Lake Abant. 
The lake area really was tranquil! If we return, I'd definitely bring my own picnic supplies.
However, there are several cafes located on the road as you approach the park.
Hubby, me and Mother Nature.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nebraska - I've become a nurse, housekeeper, gardener, handyman, and as always, a chef, with my family here.

I'm not complaining. I just want my dad to recover quickly.

My mother-in-law told my dad he should eat whatever I cook so he can get better faster. And the RN just told us yesterday that eating more protein will help his incisions heal faster.

The daily lunch special is low-sodium sliced turkey on whole wheat bread with light mayo served with potatoes and a veggie.

Dinner varies, but the other night I made a noodle soup, inspired from a recipe in the American Heart Assn. Cookbook. My mom immediately told me that dad wouldn't like it because it was "different." I'm like, how do you know? If you don't try it, you'll never know.

Generally, my dad seems to give me a bit more leeway since I am a professional in the kitchen.

And when you're told to make more changes to your diet, you really don't have a choice. So all that fat-free, low sodium, fish oils and healthy fats become a necessity.

This is a type of soup I'd make at home, so that's why it appealed to me. You taste a hint of the ginger and lime while the veggies add color. The beef is tender and provides a good dose of iron and protein. Cooking time is only about 30 minutes.

And guess what? Dad liked it!

Afiyet olsun!
Healthy Asian beef-noodle soup served in my mom's good china for dinner.
Healthy Asian Beef-Noodle Soup
Serves: 6 as a main course

1          #          (500 g.)            package of whole wheat angel hair pasta

6-7       c.         (1.5+ L)           low-sodium or sodium-free beef broth
1-inch  piece                            fresh ginger cut into large pieces
1/2       ea.                                lime zest strips
1/2       tsp.                              granulated sugar

4-5       ea.                                garlic cloves, chopped small
1          ea.                                large onion, chopped small
3-4       ea.                                mixed sweet peppers, cut into 1-inch strips
3          ea.                                carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch strips
1          lb.        (500 g.)            boneless sirloin beef, cut into thin strips
1/2       T.                                 toasted sesame oil

1/2       c.                                 flat leaf parsley (or cilantro), roughly chopped
TT                                            freshly ground black pepper

1          ea.                                lime, cut into thin wedges
I found these colorful sweet peppers at our local Hyvee. I wish we had this variety in Turkey.
First, in a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package's directions. Strain and set aside.

In the same pot, add the beef broth, ginger, lime zest and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Let steep for 5 minutes. Then, remove the ginger and lime zest.

Add the vegetables, beef and sesame oil. Bring to a simmer, cooking just until the meat is cooked through. Then add the parsley and pepper.

Add the reserved noodles back to the pot. Stir to combine. If you'd like your soup to be a bit more brothy, just add some water or more beef broth.

Garnish each serving of soup with a lime wedge.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nebraska - Here I am sitting on my parents' old porch swing in my sleepy hometown.

Instead of reading my old Sweet Valley High paperbacks from my youth, I'm typing on my laptop. I am back 'home' in one sense.
I spent many, many hours sitting on this porch swing, often reading, when I was growing up.
I'm happy to say my dad made it safely through his two heart surgeries. But it's not going to be an easy road to recovery.

My dad has two incisions that need to heal so he must scuffle through the house using a walker instead of a cane. He must avoid putting any weight on either side. He needs pretty much full-time care to do the most basic things such as eating, getting from room to room and just getting out of bed.

To complicate matters, my parents' house was built in the 1920s with small rooms and odd angles. Getting around with a walker certainly wasn't in the house's cards.

I'm doing whatever I can here to help out from running to doctor's appointments, buying groceries, and cooking dinner to fetching the morning newspaper, finding dad's reading glasses, working out in the garden and picking up as needed. My mom has her hands full so I'm glad my expat life affords me the ability to travel home for awhile. I'm definitely needed here.

Though I may call Istanbul home now and relate more to the East Coast, this is where my roots are. This is where my family lives.

At the end of the day, I'm still a Midwestern girl at heart.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I've had better days.

This week, I intended to write happy blog posts about our recent trips to Italy and Safranbolu, Turkey. But life had other plans for me.

My dad is sick in the hospital in Nebraska, and I think I'm going to make an emergency trip back home to the US to help out my family. I'm needed back home, and that's all I can think about.

These are the days I hate being an expat and being so far away from family.

The distance makes me go crazy.

I feel helpless.

I feel scared.

I don't like not knowing.

And there's always the time difference between Turkey and the U.S.

I also feel responsible because I'm the oldest sibling. I feel like I need to take charge and help out. But how can I do that when I'm 7,000 miles away from my parents?

I worry about my dad. I've always been a bit of a daddy's girl. He taught me to ride a bike, took me fishing, yelled at me during my first driving lessons, encouraged me to become a chef, and was supportive of our move abroad to Turkey.
1997 - Dad and me preparing to attend a Nebraska football game. 
It's been difficult to see him hooked up to IVs and see him in a hospital. He tells me not to worry, but how can I not?

Being an expat isn't always glamorous. Or easy.

Some days are tough.

At the end of the day, I miss my dad.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I'm often of the mindset that if you want something done right, do it yourself.

Or train someone to do it the way you would do it.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pastry assistants running around my home kitchen to help me when needed. So on Monday, I set about making my own birthday cake.

You may wonder why I would do this, especially since the Turks love sweets. There are dozens of pastry shops within walking distance from our apartment here in Istanbul. However, no one, that I've found yet, makes a cake the way that I would. 

I want my cake to have a nice crumb texture. It should be moist and tender. Most importantly, the cake's custard filling should be made from real whole milk, heavy cream and granulated sugar - not made from an instant package or mass-produced mix.

During our recent trip to Italy, I ate a strawberry torte that was exactly like how I would make it. As soon as I spotted the wild strawberries in the pastry display case, I knew I had to have one of those desserts at Gran Caffè Gambrinus in Naples. My husband is lucky he even got a bite of this delectable dessert!
The pastry display case in Naples, Italy. I ordered a slice of cake with these wild strawberries.
As soon as we returned to Istanbul, I knew I would be replicating that strawberry torte for my own birthday cake. Strawberries are in season right now and are cheap. Only 4 TL or less per kilo!

The sponge cake recipe that follows is one of my favorites. I've used it for several years in many of my restaurant desserts and for layered cakes. A genoise is a rich, light cake that is meant to be soaked in a syrup - an Amaretto syrup in this case.

I layered my cake with a homemade vanilla bean custard and fresh strawberries. I finished my cake just in time to let in set up in the freezer as my husband walked in the door from work. At least, he cooked the antrikot steak and did all the dishes for me for my birthday.

I might even have a piece of my cake with my coffee in the morning.

Afiyet olsun!
Strawberry Sponge Cake done right! But next time, I would add even more strawberries.
Genoise Vanilla Sponge Cake
Yields: 2-9-inch (22 cm.) round cake pans

11        ea.                                large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3    c.         (375 g.)            granulated sugar or vanilla sugar
1          ea.                                zest of a lemon, finely grated
2 1/3 c. + 1 1/2 T. (375 g.)      cake flour, sifted
1 1/2    tsp.                              lemon juice or vanilla extract
1/2       c.         (125 g.)            unsalted butter, melted

As needed:
1          c.         (240 ml.)          simple syrup spiked with Amaretto or left plain
Fresh strawberries
Custard filling of your choice
Whipped, lightly-sweetened cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.
2. Place baking paper circles in the bottom of the cake pans. Grease or pan-spray the pans. Set aside.
3. Place the eggs and sugar into a metal mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, whip the eggs and sugar until they have turned pale in color and increased in volume. You must whip the ingredients until they fully reach the ribbon stage - about 10 minutes. (You are relying on this stage to create the volume for your cakes.)
4. Next, add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Then, add the flour while the mixer is running to avoid getting any flour pockets in your cake batter.
5. Then, add the butter by hand, using the whisk attachment to carefully fold the ingredients together.
Here you can see how smooth and ribbon-like the cake batter should be.
6. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes. Insert a toothpick or metal cake tester to see if they are done.
7. Let the cakes cool on a metal rack. Then, trim and slice each cake into half. You will have 4 cake layers. Use an adjustable metal cake ring to help you assemble your cake.

8. Then, soak your cake layers with the simple syrup. 

9. Add a bit of custard and sliced strawberries in between each layer. Repeat.

Let the finished cake set in the fridge/freezer for at least an hour before unmolding and decorating.
I decorated my cake with a simple lightly-sweetened chantilly cream.
We made a half recipe of my Saffron Risotto Milanese to go with our antrikot steaks.
This risotto is our favorite for birthdays or special dinners.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eating Around Rome in 4 Days

Rome - After spending a week in Italy, I am back in Istanbul trying to recover from my overindulgences.

Here's a peak at some of the tasty nibbles we enjoyed on our trip.

1. Breakfast Pastries with Cappuccino – It’s probably no surprise that I have a sweet tooth. So starting off every morning in Rome with a flaky, custard-filled (or warm dark chocolate-filled) artisanal pastry was my idea of heaven!

The pastry dough reminded me a bit of either a brioche or Danish dough – rich, egg-y and slightly sweet. I must learn how to make these Italian pastries back home again.
Don’t get me wrong as I love my Turkish breakfast spread on the weekends. However, on weekdays, I normally have a bowl of Nesfit cereal and a banana with my filter coffee. My routine gets boring.

Antica Pasticceria Bernasconi, Piazza B. Cairoli No. 16, Rome

Forno Roscioli, Via dei Chiavari 34, Rome

2.  Hot Paninis – I can’t tell you where to get the best panini in Rome, but I can tell you this delicious Italian sandwich is available nearly EVERYWHERE, even in small corner shops.

One day we took the metro to Circo Massimo, found a nearby café, ordered two prosciutto and cheese paninis and beers to go and walked over to the park. We sat on the grass, enjoyed our picnic in the park and admired the ancient ruins surrounding us.

The long circus, once used for chariot races attended by up to 250,000 Romans, lies in a valley behind the Palatine Hill. The last games were held here in AD 549, and the once-grand marble was reused elsewhere in Rome.
It was starting to drizzle in the park, so I just took this photo with my phone.
3.  Cannolis – I’ve eaten many cannolis in NYC, but I think I sampled the best ones I’ve ever eaten in my life, so far, in Rome. For an afternoon pick-me-up, we ordered espresso and four mini cannolis at a small Sicilian pastry shop near our apartment in Campo de’ Fiori. Our apartment owner had recommended this shop on our first day and we were not disappointed.  
Our flaky, crisp-fried cannoli shells were filled with dark chocolate custard, pistachio paste cream, a citrus cream and a traditional sweetened ricotta cream. My mother-in-law would be jealous!

I dolci di Nonna Vincenza, Via Arco del Monte 98a/98b, Rome (Read Parla Food's blog post about this quaint shop.)

4.  Italian Cheeses with Sparkling Red Wine – While I do enjoy drinking Turkish wines, I miss the wide variety of wines available in say, France or Italy. During our trip to Bologna last year, we both fell in love with the bubbly, deep burgundy-colored Lambrusco wine.

In Rome, we popped into a cute wine bar near our apartment and asked our server if he had a similar wine. Marco, our sommlier, recommended a sparkling red wine from the Napoli region called Gragnano to go with our massive-sized Italian cheese plate. Perfection! Give me wine and cheese, and I’m a happy gal!
Six different cheeses served with a fig jam and balsamic vinegar reduction.
Verso Sera Enoteca, Piazza del Biscione, 84, Campo de Fiori, Rome

5.  Pork – roasted, braised and cured meats. Pork, in all its glorious forms, can be found in Italy. For my regular readers, you know when I travel outside of Turkey, I go on a pork binge.

On our first night in Rome, I indulged in a wild boar cured meat antipasti followed by a dish of spezzatino di capocollo con carcifoi e radici di liquirizia – roasted pork with artichokes and licorice - at L'Asino d'Oro. This plate was full of slowly-roasted pork with a meaty and slightly sweet sauce, which I sopped up with as much bread as possible. 
Wild boar antipasti
My dish of spezzatino di capocollo con carcifoi e radici di liquirizia  at L'Asino d'Oro in Rome.
My husband ordered the cinghiale in dolceforte - wild boar in a chocolate and vinegar sauce. It was equally delicious! We couldn't bring ourselves to order the donkey on the menu though.

Our restaurant recommendation came from food blogger Katie Parla – a blog I thoroughly enjoy reading as she eats around Italy and Turkey. She also has a new Rome for Foodies app available for your eating pleasure around Rome.

L’Asino d’Oro, Via del Boschetto, 73/75, Rome, near the Cavour metro stop

6.  Pasta – When in Rome, of course, you must eat some pasta. So we did! For my first meal in Rome, I ate pasta carbonara, a Roman speciality, but this one was served with D.O.P. bacon at Casa & Bottega near our apartment. I practically licked the pasta bowl clean!
Casa & Bottega, Via di Tor Millina 34/a, Rome

But one of my favorite pasta places was a random restaurant we walked by on our way to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Our lunch was cheap and delicious! Our bill with 1 antipasti, 2 pastas and a bottle of red wine was under 30 euros.

Relazioni Culinarie, Via Panisperna, 75, Rome
Simple, al dente pastas at Relazioni Culinarie in Rome.
7.  Pizza – We tried to go to the infamous Pizzarium after our Vatican City tour, but it was packed. We found a nearby restaurant with nice outdoor seating and ordered a decent margherita pizza and a spicy salami panini. Rome is full of pizzerias so do your research and figure out where you want to go. And go early!
8.  Negroni – My husband’s grandfather, with Sicilian roots, loves this classic Italian drink – equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. I dislike all those liquors, but my hubby loves gin.  We visited one of Anthony Bourdain’s recommended haunts (The Layover: Rome) for this drink across the Tiber River in the hipster neighborhood of Trastevere. Be sure to wear your skinny jeans!
Lining up the Negronis at Freni e Frizioni in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome.
Freni e Frizioni, Via del Politeama 4, Trastevere, Rome (But look around the neighborhood as we found a nearby dive bar that was serving Negronis for only 3 euros compared to 7 here.)

Happy eating!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

After many twisting, winding roads with tight hairpin turns, we arrived in Ravello, Italy late yesterday.

My husband's daily driving in Istanbul and throughout our travels in Turkey prepared him well for the crazy, but beautiful drive from Napoli to Ravello. The only annoying part was practically being driven off the road by monstrous tour buses! I despise large tour buses.

Upon our secure arrival in Ravello, I could finally relax and just soak up this amazing view. It's everything I've seen in photos and movies, but so much grander in person.

Today, we're hiking down from Ravello to Atrani and then to the town of Amalfi. It's easier going down, so I think we'll take the local bus back up.


Friday, May 4, 2012

We've had lovely weather here in Naples, Italy, for our 36-hour stay.

I think we've walked about 10 km every day since we've been in Italy! But we've seen a lot this way.

I wish we had more time to spend in this busy, character-filled city and eat more pizza and pasta. However, today we are renting a car and driving down the Amalfi coast. No time to rest!

Time to grab a Neapolitan pastry for the road and head out.