Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grandpa is happy to be away the craziness of Istanbul

"That city is nuts!" he exclaimed. Yes, it's a bit different than New Jersey.

I have to agree with him, especially when you wake up to a view like this one in Fethiye.
We woke up to a full marina in Fethiye this morning.
Both Grandma and Grandpa love being by the sea, so we planned a weekend get-away to Fethiye. There's a whole different vibe here. My stress instantly melted away once I got the car parked in front of the Alesta Yacht Hotel. (I took this photo from our 4th-floor hotel room.)

Yes, I'm driving once again in Turkey, but there's far less traffic here. Today, we are venturing out to Ölü Deniz so we can relax on the beach for a bit.

More coming soon. For now, I gotta go knock on their door and head to breakfast.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Our grandparents in front of the Yeni Camii in Eminonu.
Sightseeing in the city with grandparents is quite different from my normal jam-packed schedule.

You rethink everything you know. And question how much walking is too much.

You go slower. You help them maneuver through the crowded, chaotic streets of Istanbul.

You take taxis as often as possible to eliminate too much walking. Grandpa says he's never taken this many taxis in 20 years.

My husband's grandparents are enjoying their time here, and just grumble a bit about the traffic and the erratic taxi drivers. I don't blame them.

I can only hope that when we are 82 or 89 like them we are still traveling around the world too!

(Hope this brief post explains why I've been kinda quiet the past week or so. Cheers!)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

While we were enjoying our Turkish village life near Bademli Köyü last month, I noticed a small peninsula jutting out into the Aegean Sea.

The peninsula was located past the local beach and appeared quite high. Surely, there's a good view out there, I thought.

"Hey Murat, what's out there?" I asked our Turkish friend.

"You know, I've never been out there," said Murat, who's family has owned a summer home here for 10 years.

I was flabbergasted! My friend's response was an immediate invitation for me to explore what was out on that peninsula.

I can't help it. I've always been curious as well as one of those kind of people that if you tell me no, I'll do just the opposite. My mom learned her lesson long ago when she placed Halloween candy high on top of a glass buffet cupboard.

I was 8-year-olds, and I wanted the candy. So I climbed on top of the cupboard and the one nearby, proceeded to put my right hand through the glass, which resulted in an emergency trip to the hospital and 30 stitches. Lesson learned.

So the following day, my husband and I awoke early and headed to the local beach, about a 5-minute walk. The beach looked nice, but a ton of seaweed had washed up on the shore.
 A nicer section of the local beach near Bademli Köyü, Turkey.
We followed the shore line past two small cafes and a "holiday village" motel. Beyond this was new territory for us.

The path ended and a massive field of Turkish olive trees lay before us. The olive trees were growing in unbelievably dry, rocky soil and right along the edge a sheer cliff along the peninsula.
Large Turkish olive trees growing along the Aegean Sea.
Below the cliff, I could see the clear, turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea. The view was gorgeous and we weren't even to the top yet.
We trekked along the uneven ground among the olive trees, and I wondered how old they were. 

We climbed over a few large boulders and through some scruffy weeds amongst the olive trees. When we got the top, only about 15 minutes from when we entered the field, we were rewarded with this view.
From the looks of the littered beer cans nearby, we certainly weren't the first ones to discover this remote location. This would be the perfect spot to watch the sunset along the Aegean!
The view from the other side of the peninsula. More clear waters.
Well, we found out what was beyond those Turkish olive trees.

It pays to be curious.
I loved the twisted tree trunks on these old olive trees!

Friday, September 21, 2012

For six weeks this summer, we stayed at a friend's home near  Emirgan Korusu (Emirgan Park).

The park is lovely, even without the springtime tulips, and the Bosphorus views, especially of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, are extraordinary.
A night-time view of Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, Istanbul's second bridge that connects Europe and Asia together.
However, I quickly learned Emirgan is like a suburb of Istanbul. It took me about twice as long to get anywhere by public transportation! Lucky you if you have a car here.

That's when I realized my daily life in Istanbul revolves around the particular neighborhoods of Beşiktaş, Nişantaşı, Sultanahmet and the Taksim area. I'm a city girl at heart.

Every now and then, we might head north to Ortaköy or Bebek to grab a different kind of ale at  TAPS Brewery. And maybe to Emirgan for a relaxing Sunday brunch at Sutiş. And then even more rare, we might venture over to the Asian side of Istanbul.

Still, I did enjoy temporarily living among the greenness and fancy houses of Emirgan. Here are some photos I took while exploring the side streets here.
You'll first notice the boats in the Bosphorus when you visit Emirgan in Istanbul.
But a few blocks away, you will find chickens in a neighbor's backyard.
The back of Panagia Evangelistria Greek Orthodox Church in Emirgan.
The church, dates back to 1834, still holds a service on Sunday mornings.
The front view of Panagia Evangelistria Greek Orthodox Church in Emirgan.
Emirgan has many of these beautifully restored Ottoman-era mansions.
I'm going to guess they date back to the 1800s. 
Wouldn't you love to live in one of these beauties in Istanbul?
I think this was once a functioning fountain.
Now, it's overgrown with wild flowers.
The Church of Surp Yerits Mangants (The Three Holy Infants) in Emirgan
also is open on Sundays. This Armenian church dates back to 1836
and was restored as recently as 2004.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I have often said, if you cannot find it in Eminönü, then you don't need it.

This bustling neighborhood in Istanbul, near the Galata Bridge, is one of my favorite places to wander. I've spent countless hours strolling through the backstreets looking for fabric, rugs, sunglasses, toys, beads, various spices, kitchen supplies and things I didn't even know I needed.

Eminönü also is where I buy the majority of my baking supplies and ingredients. From time to time, blog readers have asked me where I find certain ingredients, cookie cutters and baking pans. Well, now I'm putting all this information into one nice blog post for you.

As you approach the Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar) in Istanbul, stay to the right outside the building and walk down the small street of Tahmis Sokak. You will pass about 15 or so vendors selling dried fruits, nuts, cheese, fish and fresh produce.
On Tahmis Sokak in Eminönü, you will find cheese shops like this one.
The guys will happily give you samples to try.
Toward the end of the street, you will see the famous Turkish coffee shop, Kurukahveci MehmetEfendi, on your right-hand side on the corner. Turn right down this street, Hasırcılar Caddesi. This is my stomping grounds in Istanbul and where you will find everything you ever wanted (almost) for baking.
I have never not seen a line outside of this Turkish coffee shop in Eminönü.
So here are my 3 Favorite Baking Supply Stores in Eminönü in Istanbul:
1. Sancar - First, you will pass by Sancar. In front of the store are bins filled with nuts, boxes of plastic wrap, plastic gloves, paper plates and cups. Look for the helpful guys wearing red shirts. I think I'm considered a regular customer by now.

I doubt any other yabancı buy as many kilos as I do of chocolate chips (10 tl), chopped walnuts (24 tl), hazelnuts (22 tl), powdered sugar (4 tl) and 2.5 kilo bricks of dark chocolate. Sancar also has a great selection of plastic take-away containers that I buy in bulk to transport my pastries.
A 1-kilo bag of Elit bitter chocolate chips costs 10 tl.
2. Besan - About 10 stores down from Sancar, you will notice this pastry shop by its hundreds of colorful baking cups stacked outside in a bin.
Colorful baking cups at Besan. 
Inside Besan, you will find one of the best selection of cookie cutters (2-10 tl each). But beware, cookie cutters are much more expensive here than the U.S. Actually, all of the imported pastry items such as pastry bags, piping tips and fancy baking pans are more expensive in Turkey.

However, I have bought a fair number of cookie cutters, mini metal tart pans and my foil cardboard cake circles here (.50 tl each). Besan also has a colorful selection of fondant, which I've used with great success.
I've bought many cookie cutters here at Besan. 
3. Nüans - Continue a few more meters down Hasırcılar Caddesi and you will see a duplex-like pastry shop on the left-hand side of the street.
Nüans always has bins outside filled with baskets, bowls and
other kitchen supplies.
Nüans is the largest pastry supply store in Eminönü (that I know of), but it also tends to be slightly higher priced than the other ones I frequent. Still, I pop in every now and then to compare goods and prices. The store does have a large selection of baking pans, silpats, pastry tips, cookie cutters, kitchen knives, cupcake decorating sprinkles, birthday candles, fondant and sugar paste supplies.

So there you have it! Now, you know where a busy baker like me likes to shop in Istanbul.

Happy baking everyone!

Sancar Merkez
Address: Hasırcılar Caddesi No. 24, Eminönü-Fatih
Tel: 0212-528-6836

Besan LTD.
Address: Hasırcılar Caddesi No. 38, Eminönü-Fatih
Tel: 0212-514-1516

Address: Hasırcılar Caddesi No. 65-67, Eminönü-Fatih
Tel: 0212-513-4242

Friday, September 14, 2012

"The happy combination of fortuitous circumstances," Scottish author Sir Walter Scott.

That quote beautifully sums up how earlier this year I started baking for a hip coffeeshop in the historical district in Istanbul.

So here's the story:

Two friends, an American and an American-Canadian, visit Turkey several times on vacation and fall in love with the country. They quit their U.S. jobs, move to Istanbul and dream of opening a coffeeshop.

They find the right location in Sultanahmet. Construction begins.

A neighbor, seeing the new construction, walks by nearly every day to see what's happening. This neighbor, Kelly of Playing Around Workshops in Istanbul, is a good friend of mine.

Earl and Ken tell Kelly they are looking for a French pastry chef. She tells them she knows just the right person.

Well, I'm not French. However, I am trained in making French pastries thanks to working at Jean-Georges in NYC

So I make some of my chocolate ganache tarts, strawberry-vanilla cream tarts, lemon curds tarts and chocolate brioche. 

One day, I meet Earl and Ken. I tempt them with my sweet pastries. And soon a partnership is born!

Right now, you can find my fig and frangipane tarts, homemade peach pies, mocha swirl cheesecake, chocolate-dipped biscotti and more at Denizen Coffee in Sultanahmet. I make the pastries while Earl and Ken provide the freshest cup of coffee - iced or hot, cappuccino and espresso in the area. No Nescafe here! 
Fresh Turkish figs star in this frangipane tart at Denizen Coffee in Istanbul.
Denizen Coffee has some delicious panini sandwiches and smoothies on the menu too. I've even taste-tested them for you!
Smoked turkey panini sandwich - one of my regular lunches when I stop at the coffeeshop.
Earl and Ken also dish up the local gossip and make me laugh whenever I pop in the coffeeshop. 

If you live in Istanbul or are just visiting the city, you must stop by Denizen Coffee. Earl and Ken will greet you with a smile and then fix you right up with a jolt of caffeine and tempt you with one of my sweet pastries. If you need sightseeing advice, they can provide that too.

I'm very lucky to have met these fellow expats thanks to another expat here in Istanbul.
Earlier this week, Istanbul Daily Secret popped in for a photo shoot.
That's me in the middle with my two favorite coffee guys - Ken and Earl.
Denizen Coffee
Address: Şehit Mehmet Pasa Yokuşu No. 8
Sultanhamet, Istanbul

Here is a map.
An inside look at Denizen Coffee during one of my early morning deliveries.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

If I had a Turkish mother-in-law, I'm sure she would yell at me for some of the atrocities I've committed in my kitchen here in Istanbul.

My friend, Sharon, has told me so. She's married to a Turk and has lived here for 17 years.

Sharon has scolded me for throwing away those precious spinach roots. I buy the bunches of spinach at the pazar, wash it several times in the kitchen sink to remove all the dirt, trim it and then steam it or use it in various dishes such as my Turkish Green Eggs.
Perfectly stacked bunches of spinach at the pazar in Istanbul.
AND yes, I throw away the spinach roots!

But this weekend, I finally saved those darned spinach roots from the kilo of spinach we had bought at the pazar. And I actually cooked them up in a fabulous little meze dish that was loaded with slivers of garlic and pul biber.

My husband and his friend were impressed! So was I! We served them with grilled antrikot and some Turkish-style okra.

Guess I'll be saving those darned spinach roots after all.

Afiyet olsun!

BTW, Claudia at A Seasonal Cook in Turkey mentioned these spinach roots awhile back too.

A delicious Turkish meze of spinach roots at home!

Spinach Roots Meze (Ispanak Kökü Mezesi)
This is a loose recipe as I didn't really measure anything this time.

Olive oil
4-6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (You can never have too much garlic!)
1/2 onion, small diced
Spinach roots saved from 1 kilo of spinach, trimmed and washed (about 2-3-inches in length)
Generous spoonful of pul biber, if you like it spicy like we do
To taste salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small pan, heat the olive oil.

Saute the garlic and onion for a couple of minutes until softened.

Add the spinach roots with just a little water to help them cook. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes or until tender.

Season the spinach roots with pul biber, salt and pepper.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Turkey’s fig season lasts for what seems like a fleeting moment here.

The figs are always stacked nicely at the pazar.
The season started a month ago with the appearance of the large green-skinned figs at the pazar, but I don’t like those as much as the dark purple ones. 

The purple figs are sublime! They burst with fresh figgy flavor, and I love every moment they are in season. My cousin from Nebraska tried his first fresh fig when he visited us last month.

During the last two weeks, I’ve put these purple incir in salads, in my breakfast yogurt, a peach-fig cobbler, and several fig and frangipane tarts. You can find these popular fig tarts at Denizen Coffee in Sultanahmet.
My favorite way to use Turkish figs - in a fig & frangipane tart.
You can enjoy yours with a cup of coffee at Denizen Coffee, located in Sultanahmet in Istanbul.
Then, just the other day, I stumbled upon a recipe for homemade raspberry vinegar; and I thought, why can’t I make this with these tasty Turkish figs?

This is a recipe that you must make NOW! The figs need to steep for 3 weeks so the vinegar can extract all the fig flavor.

But if you wait, the fig season might end before you have a chance to make this recipe.

I’m already envisioning a roka salad with goat cheese and sliced dried figs drizzled with this fresh fig vinegar. Figs and goat cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly do!

Afiyet olsun!
My Turkish fig vinegar is currently steeping in these jars on my kitchen counter.
You also might like this fig recipe from last year: Incir ve Fındık Pasta (Fig and Hazelnut Pastry or Rugelach).

Fresh Fig Vinegar/Taze Incir Sirkesi
(I made a double recipe of the one below as I plan to give a few small bottles of this vinegar to friends.)

500             ml.         üzüm sirkesi (Turkish version of red wine vinegar) You also could use white vine vinegar.
200            g.            (about 6-8 figs) fresh figs, sliced in quarters
2 ½            Tablespoons       honey
1                Tablespoon         black peppercorns

In a medium-sized pot, combine all ingredients. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, so the mixture doesn’t burn.

Ladle the vinegar mixture into a clean, large jar. Seal and store at room temperature for about 3 weeks to allow the flavors to infuse.

Then, strain the vinegar through a coffee filter, which will help remove the sediment and solids. Press down on the figs to extract as much juice as possible.
Place the vinegar into new clean bottles.

Seal the bottle or jars, and store in the refrigerator until needed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Before we returned to our home in Beşiktaş, we spent an afternoon trekking through Belgrade Forest with our friends' friendly dog.

Hubby had last Thursday (August 30) off from work since it was a holiday - Zafer Bayramı. This holiday, also known as Victory Day, commemorates the victory in the Battle of Dumlupınar, one of the final battles and the most decisive one in the 1922 Turkish War of Independence.

We decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and get some exercise in the beautiful Belgrade Forest. I think it's been over a year since we've been to the forest, according to my last blog post.
Belgrade Forest, with it's lush green landscape, seems like a thousand miles away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.
Belgrade Forest is difficult to reach without your own car. And even then, the weekend Istanbul traffic is usually horrendous, so we rarely drive, which is why we haven't been in a long time. 

But if you do make the effort, you will be rewarded with a pleasant walk around a large lake that used to supply water to Sultanahmet and the surrounding old areas of Istanbul. The 6-1/2 kilometer trail has even been updated - no more potholes!
Apparently, the new trail was sponsored by Firatpen, a local building company, as seen by this sign.
Jason took the dog for a stroll near the lake. For such a big dog, she was scared of the water.
After we walked about halfway around the lake, we found a cozy nook for a picnic lunch that I had packed. I've been craving BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato) sandwiches because the Turkish tomatoes have been incredibly delicious this summer. BLTs are such an American part of summer.

But I was missing one key ingredient - bacon! 

My freezer stash of my beloved pork is quite low so I made a pit stop at a Macro Center - Istanbul's version of a Whole Foods. I plunked down 12.50 tl  (almost $7 USD) for a measly 125 gram-package of Greek bacon. This is how badly I wanted a BLT!
As you can see, we enjoyed our BLTs with a light sauvignon blanc Turkish wine.
BTW, we assume drinking in the forest is frowned upon so we kept the bottle of wine
stashed in our backpack.
Actually, our BLT's were more like BRTs with Turkish roka (arugula) making a great substitute for lettuce. The sandwiches were a welcome summer treat!

We enjoyed the natural landscape of the forest and the fresh air for 3 hours or so before we headed back to the city. This was definitely a good way to spend the bayram together!

Belgrade Forest can be reached by public buses heading to Bahçeköy, such as 42T from Taksim and 153 from Sariyer. After the last bus stop, it's a short walk to the forest's entrance.
You'll even find some pretty wildflowers around the lake in Belgrade Forest.
This tree mushroom was hard as a rock, but I thought it would make a cool photo.