Thursday, June 28, 2012

Istanbul's island of Büyükada is known for its ornamental mansions, horse-drawn faytons and abundant fish restaurants.

It's not necessarily known for the hundreds of cats that call Büyükada home, but I couldn't help but take tons of photos of these furry felines yesterday.

The day started out with cloudy skies and patches of drizzly rain, so my desire to lay out on beach was crushed. Instead, my girlfriend and I strolled around the friendly island; or as I like to say "Let's do some gezmek-ing." (Gezmek is the Turkish word for to stroll.)

If you are  lucky enough to get away from the crowds on Büyükada, you suddenly feel like you're transported to a different era far away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

Here's a couple photos of the island's cats that captured my attention. Enjoy!

Please see related photo post: The  Cats of Çukurcuma.

Eavesdropping Cats of  Büyükada.
Smart Cat - waiting by a fish restaurant on  Büyükada.
Chilling Cat
Bucket Cat - all curled up.
Behind Bars Cat
Motorbike Cat
Lap Cat - We found this cat curled up on a local resident's lap.
Flower Cat

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Last night, we had just sat down at a restaurant in the Asmalı Mescit neighborhood of Beyoğlu. I ordered a glass of white wine, then suddenly heard whistles, drums and lots of people nearby. What was going on?

Of course, I wanted to find out so I grabbed my purse and told our waiter in my best Turkish that I'd be back in a minute. I'm sure he thought I was some crazy yabancı, but that's nothing new.

Once on Istiklal Caddesi, I saw the rainbow flags and LGBTT banners and realized I 
was in the midst of a gay pride parade in Istanbul.
June 24, 2012 Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul
I was surprised to see thousands of demonstrators chanting about gay rights in 
Turkish. I'm sure standing up for gay rights in a predominantly Muslim world 
isn't easy. So huge kudos to everyone who had the courage to do so yesterday!
I actually didn't find anything about this event in the Turkish news this morning. 
However, here is a link to a YouTube video "Kicking off Gay Pride Week in Istanbul."

I watched the crowd pass by for a few minutes, took a few photos and then 
rushed back to the restaurant. My husband didn't know where I was. Oops!
Note to self: you never know when might get that perfect photograph so ALWAYS bring
 the good camera with you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Using Turkish Kiraz to make Limonata

Cherries, from bright red to sunset orange, are everywhere right now in Istanbul.

I love cherries, but sometimes I forget I have them in the fridge. So the other day, I came across a bunch of kinda mushy kiraz and decided to cook them in a simple syrup.
Mountains of cherries at the pazar and manav in Istanbul. 
At first, I was thinking of making a refreshing lemonade or limonata as the drink is called here in Turkey. Restaurants charge as much as 12 tl for this drink, but I made enough limonata mix for 4 drinks for about half that price.

Making this cherry-lemonade mix from scratch is fairly easy - a similar method to my Homemade Ginger Ale recipe.

If you want a fun summer cocktail instead, just replace some of the sparkling water or soda water with vodka (which you have stored in the freezer, of course).

What's your favorite way to use summer's bounty of cherries?

Afiyet olsun!
Sipping my pretty cherry-lemonade cocktail at home.
Cherry-Lemonade Cocktail

1          c.         (210 g.)            granulated sugar
1          c.         (240 ml.)          water
About 1 lb. or 500 g.               fresh cherries, rinsed but not pitted
Juice                                        half a lemon

As needed:      Sparkling water (I used Uludağ Doğal Zengin Mineralli Su) or soda water
                        Chilled vodka
                        Ice cubes
                        Lime wedges

In a medium-sized pot, add the sugar, water, cherries and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring often. I let my mixture come to a boil and then pulled the pot off the heat.

Let the mixture cool until it is room temperature.

Then, strain the mixture, pressing down on the cherries to extract as much liquid as possible; or strain the mixture through cheesecloth. The cherry syrup can be used now or stored in a clean container in the refrigerator for later use. I prefer to have a chilled syrup.

To make a glass of Cherry-Lemonade Cocktail:
1/4       c.         (60 ml.)            cherry syrup
1/4       c.         (60 ml.)            fresh lemon juice
1/4       c.         (60 ml.)            chilled vodka

Fill a cocktail shaker with these ingredients and a couple of  ice cubes. Shake together. Pour into a glass.

Then top off your glass with 1/4 c. (60 ml.) sparkling water or soda water.

(HINT: do not add the fizzy water to your martini shaker like I did at first because it will make a HUGE mess! That's why hubby is generally the bartender.)

Garnish with a lime wedge.

To make a non-alcoholic drink, substitute 1/2 c. (120 ml.) sparkling water or soda water for the vodka.

Now, take your cocktail or normal limonata and imagine you are on the beach. At least, that's what I did.

Monday, June 18, 2012

As soon as I saw this familiar pile of red and green peppers at the pazar, I asked if they were hot peppers in Turkish.

Somehow, I had stumbled upon a gigantic pile of REAL jalapeños at the Saturday pazar in Beşiktaş in Istanbul. This is the first time, in my two years of living here, I have found REAL jalapeños at the pazar!
About 6 tl per kilo!
Immediately, I asked the pazar stall next door, overflowing with fresh herbs and lettuces, if he had taze kışnış (fresh cilantro). My husband secured the cilantro while I picked up my jalapeños.

Soon, we would be making my fresh salsa recipe!

Moments like these rarely happen here. Usually, I have to go to several markets/stores to find all my ingredients. It's not easy finding Mexican, Indian or Asian ingredients in Istanbul. However, I have started seeing more and more foreign ingredients appear at the large grocery stores.
Hot sauces galore at the REAL Merkezi in Fulya, Istanbul.

Here are some substitutes I've made for Mexican ingredients while living in Turkey:

·         cilantro (kışnış) - Sometimes you are lucky to find it at a pazar. Check your large grocery stores such as MacroCenter, REAL or Carrefour.

·         acı biber (hot pepper) = jalapenos

·         suzme yoğurt = sour cream

·         Turkish lavaş = flour tortillas

·         pul biber = ground hot pepper flakes

·         kaşar peynir = cheddar cheese

And the best substitute yet is using nacho cheese-flavored Doritos for tortilla chips! Generally, MacroCenter carries bags of tortilla chips (for 12 tl), but it would've have taken me nearly an hour to go there and back again.

As an expat, you learn to adapt. Expats learn to improvise. And you learn you can still make delicious tasting food with different ingredients.

So I prepared my Turkish ingredients for a complete Mexican meal at our apartment in Istanbul. Hubby played the role of bartender, making us homemade nar-garitas, and as my dishwasher.

As you can see, we had lovely Turk-Mex meal of chicken soft tacos and all the fixings, salsa and spicy corn.

Afiyet olsun!

Grilled Chicken Marinade Ingredients:
Marinades are generally an oil mixed with some spices or a mixture of oil, an acid and some spices. I went with the latter option this time.

1 1/2    lb.        (750 g.) boneless chicken thighs or breasts
1/3       c.                     sunflower or vegetable oil      
1/4       c.                     fresh lime juice
4-6       ea.                    garlic cloves, finely chopped
1          T.                     fresh parsley, finely chopped (or substitute fresh cilantro)
1          tsp.                  cumin
1          tsp.                  dried oregano
1          tsp.                  pul biber (I used a bit of ground chili ancho pepper I have from the US.)
1/2       tsp.                  salt
1/4       tsp.                  ground black pepper

Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Cover the chicken with the marinade and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Then, use an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to cook the chicken. I used my indoor grill pan, turned the chicken once, and it took about 15 minutes. Slice the chicken into small strips.

Serve the chicken strips on a platter  with warmed tortillas and your favorite taco fixings.

Spicy Corn Side Dish
1          T.                     sunflower oil
1          ea.                    medium onion, diced small
1          ea.                    garlic clove, diced small
1          ea.                    jalapeño, diced small
1          ea.                    red pepper, diced small
1          ea.                    green pepper, diced small
1 pkg. (500 g.)             frozen corn
1/2       c.                     water
1          T.                     fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1          tsp.                  cumin
As needed                   salt, pul biber, black pepper
1          T.                     butter

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño, red and green pepper. Sauté  until softened, about 6-8 minutes.

Add the corn and water. Cook for 10 minutes. 

Then add the spices and butter.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This week, in Istanbul, "Her gün nemli, sıcak." (Every day is hot, humid.)

As soon as I step outside after showering, I'm sweating.

At the end of the day, my flip-flop feet are blackened from the dusty city streets so I take another shower at night.

How I long to be at a beach or swimming pool! All our friends are talking about their summer vacations here in Turkey. We don't have any beach trips planned - yet!

Soon, a good friend is going to spend a relaxing weekend in the Çeşme and Alaçatı area, which reminded me of our fun weekend there last summer. I never really posted any photos from that trip, so I thought I'd share some now.

We loved staying at the  Alaçatı Zeytin Konak Otel. This small boutique hotel is the perfect place to use as a base to explore the Çeşme Peninsula.
Alaçatı Zeytin Konak Otel's swimming pool at night.
I could stay at this hotel in  Alaçatı  just for it's bountiful Turkish breakfast spread and for the local "puffy" bread.
Although the hotel has two swimming pools, we spent more time on the beach. The only problem is that many of the area's beaches are set up as beach clubs so you pay 20 to 30 tl per person to lay out on the beach.

However, my favorite beach we returned to again is Ilica Beach & Cafe, located near Sheraton Hotel's private beach in Çeşme. Two chairs with an umbrella cost only 24 tl! We had packed our own Turkish towels, raided a nearby bakkal and brought our own beers to the beach.
This beach does get crowded, but the chairs are cheap and the Aegean Sea is crystal clear and warm. The four of us took turns swimming so someone was always watching our belongings.
Note: bury your beer in the cold sand. It gets hot quickly and warm Efes is not good!

And when you get hungry, I highly recommend grabbing a kumru, a local sandwich stuffed with Turkish sausage, melted cheese and tomatoes, served hot from one of the beach vendors. I love cheese!
Enjoying a Turkish kumru sandwich at the Ilica Beach & Cafe.
One sandwich is like 2,000 calories, but washed down with a cold beer on the beach, it's exactly what you need! (In fact, I'd like to find this sandwich here after a night out on Istiklal Cad.)

Hopefully, we'll get out of the sweltering city in a few weeks. 

Where is your favorite beach in Turkey?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

While you're trekking along the ancient walls in Istanbul, you are bound to get hungry.

I know we did when we explored the ruins of Yedikule Hisarı and followed the Byzantine-era stone walls. (Please see previous post about Istanbul's ancient walls here.)

By following 10 Yıl Caddesi behind the Yedikule fortress, about 1.5 kilometers away, you will find some of the best köfte in the Zeytinburnu neighborhood of Istanbul. There's not much along the main road, which is why this köftecisi is such a gem of a place.

Like many of Istanbul's best places to eat, Merkez Efendi Köftecisi is tucked down a side street. You probably wouldn't know this small restaurant was there unless someone recommended it or you happened to stumble upon it. We enjoyed lunch here thanks to the historical tour we did with  Friends of American Research Institute Turkey (FARIT).

We started out with a traditional piyaz, a Turkish bean salad, with onions, parsley, tomatoes, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar. A bowl of spicy sauce was served on the table so I mixed a healthy dollop into my plate of piyaz.
The perfect dish to accompany piyaz is either köfte or köfte.

These köfte (grilled Turkish meatballs) are quite comparable to the ones I've enjoyed at the 81-year-old Tarihi Köftecisi Selim Usta in Sultanahmet. Juicy, slightly fatty and simply delicious!
More spicy paste to accompany the köfte.
I loved how they served the fresh, homemade ayran in this fancy cup fit for a sultan.
In Istanbul, you can will see köfte served just about everywhere. But how often can you eat truly good köfte in the proximity of nearly 2,000 years of history?

Telsiz Mah. 69 / 1 Sokak, Zeytinburnu, Istanbul
From the Yedikule Hisarı, follow 10 Yıl Caddesi for about 1 kilometer, then turn onto Belgradkapı Cad. You will see Merkez Efendi Köftecisi located on the corner.

Friday, June 8, 2012

From frozen bacon, bacon bits, prosciutto and aged Parmesan.

To ranch dressing, beef jerky, dried blueberries, vanilla extract and baking powder.

And Trident gum, corn syrup, creamy peanut butter and even 2 bottles of my beloved Brooklyn Brewery Beer.

These are just some of the things that have traveled in my suitcases from the US to Istanbul. (See also related post about traveling from Munich to Istanbul.)

When I recently visited Nebraska, I was just in time to harvest some of my mom’s rhubarb in the garden. I made a healthy version of an oat crisp dessert with strawberries, blueberries and rhubarb. It was delicious!

Then, I made sure to tell my envious husband just how delicious it was!

As a pastry chef in the US, rhubarb always signals the beginning of spring. After a long winter, you’re tired of using citrus fruits, apples, pears and dried fruits in your desserts. You want color!

Rhubarb, even though it’s technically a vegetable, gives you that pop of ruby pink color. And it’s just another thing that’s not available in Istanbul.
Fresh stalks of rhubarb in the U.S.
Well, there is something called Işkın, wild Turkish rhubarb, but I missed the season, and I don’t know if it’s similar to the rhubarb I know and love or not. Does anyone know?

Toward the end of my stay in Nebraska, I scored 3 pounds of rhubarb, cut it into pieces and double wrapped it in plastic freezer bags. I had promised my husband that I would bring back some rhubarb if I had room. On the morning of my departure, I carefully stuffed the two bags separately into my two checked suitcases.

Or so I thought.

By the time I arrived back at our apartment in Istanbul, I had traveled through four airports, flown more than 6,000 miles and been on the road for 24+hours. I was beat!

But I still had to unpack the perishables, including the rhubarb.

I opened my biggest suitcase and soon noticed a pinkish stain on a couple t-shirts. Then, I saw the stains all over my favorite trench coat!

Despite my careful planning and packing, the rhubarb, once defrosted, had leaked out of the plastic bags. Luckily, most of the stains washed out.

Lesson learned: next time you have a hankering for smuggling fresh rhubarb into another country, don’t do it!

But this is how much I love rhubarb. And how much I love my husband because he loves strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Now I can laugh about my follies and tell you that my foreign rhubarb combined with fresh Turkish strawberries makes an excellent pie!

I even shared a piece with my friends at Denizen Coffee in Sultanahmet.

Afiyet olsun!
My prized strawberry-rhubarb pie baked in Istanbul.
For a 9-inch pie, use your favorite pie crust recipe. I decided to try the Pioneer Woman’s Butter Pie Crust recipe this time and achieved good results.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling
(Adapted from my mother-in-law’s recipe. Thanks Mary!)

1            #                 (500 g.)            fresh rhubarb, small chunks
1 ½            c.            (275 g.)            sliced strawberries
¼            tsp.                                    salt
1 ¼            c.            (250 g.)            granulated sugar
4            T.                                        flour
¼            tsp.                                     nutmeg, freshly grated
1            ea.                                       lemon zest, freshly grated

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients above. Place inside your dough-lined pie pan.
Strawberry and rhubarb tossed together for the pie filling.
For a classic American pie look, top your pie off with a weaved lattice crust. See this easy, but slightly cheesy, YouTube video how to make a perfect lattice top pie crust. Get your ruler out!
Using a ruler and a pizza cutter, I cut my strips into 3/4-inch pieces.
Then, carefully, weave the strips in between each other following the video's instructions.
Place your perfect pie in a preheated oven at 400 F/200 C. Sprinkle a little granulated sugar over the top. Bake for 20 minutes.

Then, cover the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil to prevent too much browning. Turn the oven down to 350 F/175 C. Bake for 30-40 minutes more until the juices in the pie begin bubbling and your crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and let your pie cool down. If you slice the pie while it is still warm, the filling won’t hold together. I baked my pie late at night, so I waited until the next day to dig into my pie.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Mmmm....strawberry-rhubarb pie!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There are two sides to Istanbul.

Literally, the city sprawls across two continents - Europe and Asia.

But it's also a place where you can see fancy Ottoman mansions located along the Bosphorus and urban shopping malls as well as the occasional chicken running across the street in Vefa or Arnavutköy.

You don't have to go far to see signs of rural life in the city.

Located near the ruins of Yedikule Hisarı and following the Byzantine-era stone walls are small vegetable gardens and well organized fields of green onions, spinach, lettuce and more.
A man tends to his field of spinach near the Byzantine walls in Istanbul.
These gardens flourish between the city's crumbling land walls and the modern paved road on the other side. From what I understand, the gardens were once some of the main agricultural fields of Old Istanbul and established after the Ottomans filled in the former defense ditches and cisterns with soil.

Now, the locals rent these narrow fertile strips of land from the government and have established what looks like gecekondular (ramshackle houses built overnight without permits). Families, even with small children, live and farm here.
Well organized plots, plus a small nursery growing trees.
This was one of the more extensive vegetable stands set up near the walls.
As you walk by the walls, you'll notice men and women tending to the gardens as well as small market stands set up on the sidewalks selling their beautiful produce. I have to assume they sell the vegetables to make a little money and use the rest for their own consumption.
I mean just look at the veggies here! Several people even had plastic cold frames set up to start their vegetable seedlings when the weather was still cold.
I don't even like radishes, but these looked so colorful and tempting. 
Istanbul is full of paradoxes....And this is one of the best places to see the ancient walls of Istanbul and traditional farming techniques at the same time.

How to get there:
Just take the suburban train from Sirkeci to Yedikule and in about 20 minutes, you'll find yourself walking amongst this different world.
Traditional Turkish women harvesting radishes by the armfuls.