Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween from my kitchen in Istanbul to yours wherever you might be.

Halloween is another foreign holiday that still hasn't caught on here yet. I didn't even see any decorated cookies at my favorite pastry shops today. However, there are a few bars and clubs hosting parties tonight. (Check @tgistanbul on Twitter for the latest updates on where to celebrate Halloween in Istanbul tonight.)

I'm not feeling that festive so I will be hanging out at home with hubby and a steamy bowl of pesto vegetable soup. It's inevitable that I would get a cold after spending the last several weeks traveling.

This morning, I finished baking some more mini apple pies and lemon curd tarts for Denizen Coffee. I had some leftover tart dough so I decided to bake a few Halloween cookies. I had a bucket full of new Halloween cookie cutters purchased in America that I was aching to use.

Of course, I couldn't leave the cookies plain; and yesterday I had purchased some orange fondant at one of my baking supply stores in Eminönü just in case I felt up to doing this.
I baked and decorated two dozen Halloween cookies for some friends here in Istanbul.
As you can see, my Halloween cookies turned out quite cute. I enjoyed two cookies with a glass of tea this afternoon.

Here's how you can make your own decorated fondant cookies:

Make a batch of your favorite sugar cookie dough recipe. I just use leftover tart dough sometimes.

Cut out and bake the cookies.

Make a batch of royal icing. I beat one egg white with about 1 cup of powdered sugar until its creamy. If it's too thick, I add a drop or two of water. Too thin, add a little more powdered sugar. The royal icing is used as glue to adhere the fondant to the cookies.

Melt some dark chocolate in a double boiler. I love using chocolate for decorating cookies, cakes and tarts!

Roll out and cut out the fondant into the same shape as the cookies.

Using a pastry bag with a small rounded tip, pipe an outline of the royal icing and fill in the middle of the cookie. Place the cutout fondant on top and  glue" down the fondant on top of the cookie. The royal icing hardens fairly quickly so only pipe two or three cookies at a time.

Next, place some of the melted chocolate into a cornet made from parchment baking paper. Pipe silly faces onto your pumpkin cookies or use it to outline other cookies too.
Using a cornet to pipe faces onto the Halloween cookies makes the job fast and easy.
Let the cookies set so the icing and chocolate can harden.

Eat. Enjoy. Share with friends. Eat another cookie.

Happy Halloween from Istanbul!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The streets in Istanbul are still fairly quiet. 

Families have been celebrating a long holiday weekend together since last week. Last Wednesday marked the Muslim celebration of Kurban Bayrami (Eid el-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice). Luckily, I missed seeing any sheep being sacrificed after returning from our U.S. trip.

Then, today, the 29th of October, is Cumhuriyet Bayramı (Republic Day) in Turkey, which marks the 89th birthday of the Turkish Republic. You can find the Turkish flag displayed with pride everywhere throughout the city. A nearby hospital's flag covered at least four stories on the front of the building. 
This is a great view of the Galata and Pera area in Istanbul.
You can see many Turkish flgas displayed here even on the Galata Tower.
Hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays in Turkey or wherever you might be! How do you celebrate the bayramlar with your family?

Cumhuriyet Bayramı Kutlu Olsun!

Here are more photos from last year's Cumhuriyet Bayramı in Istanbul: Turkiye'ye Kutlu Olsun!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

We’re lucky that we have grandparents that still love hanging out by the beach.

So we spent one afternoon together relaxing, reading and sunbathing on the beach at Ölü Deniz near Fethiye. The beach, known as the “dead sea” in Turkish, is only 14 km (9 miles) from the city center.

“Now, this is what I’m talking about,” said Grandpa, as we walked across the small pebbled beach at Ölü Deniz. They found the stones more difficult to walk on compared to the fine sandy beaches of Florida that they frequent.

For two months every winter in the U.S., our grandparents usually hightail it down to Florida (like other seniors their age). Grandpa, who’s Italian heritage means he tans as soon as he even looks at the sun, loves being by the water. 

The slightly overcast sky meant the beach wasn’t overcrowded during our late September visit. Last year, we visited the beach in mid-October and it was just as quiet then.
You can watch yachts sail in and out of Olü Deniz.
There also were plenty of people taking advantage of the perfect weather temperatures and paragliding at Ölü Deniz. Every now and then while Grandma and I were reading our books, we’d look up and comment on the paragliders that we saw in the sky. It’s definitely one sport I’d rather be a spectator safely on the ground than a participant.
Eventually with trepidation, I stepped into the aquamarine glass-like sea water. The sun had warmed me enough to where I needed to cool off. However, the water was a bit colder than I would have liked and goose bumps instantly formed on my skin. Grandpa and my husband were already chilling out in the water.
This is one of my favorite photos of grandpa and my husband sitting in the beautiful water together at  Ölü Deniz. 
Grandpa thought it was cool that he could now say he’s “dipped his toes in the Mediterranean Sea in Asia.” Wait until all his retired friends back in the US here that!

Grandparents say the darnedest things.
On the other side of where we stayed at the beach is the lagoon area of Ölü Deniz. 
This area is mainly populated by families with small children. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

All you have to do is take a stroll along the Fethiye Marina and you will see hundreds of yachts in all shapes and sizes.
I don't know anything about boats or yachts or what I would have called a sailboat. Apparently, there are dry sailing yachts, weekender yachts, cruising yachts, luxury sailing yachts and racing yachts. I'm sure you can find all of these varieties while you are vacationing in Fethiye.

I just like to sit back and admire the yachts from afar. I would've liked to take a day tour on one of the wooden yachts, but we just didn't have enough time during our recent trip here. There are plenty of companies offering day and sunset cruises.

Instead, I took several photos, mainly from our hotel room at the Alesta Yacht Hotel, where we had a perfect view of the Fethiye Marina.

This is definitely a pleasant place to spend a weekend.
A lone sailboat takes off at dusk in the Fethiye Marina.
I loved the way the sky looked in this photo.
A classic sunset photo taken in the Fethiye Marina.
One of the prettier wooden yachts that I admired in the Fethiye Marina.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No matter if I am on “vacation” or not, I can’t help but bake.

I just spent a week in Nebraska visiting my family. As you might know from previous posts, my dad underwent a major surgery back in May to receive a new pacemaker. He’s supposed to have a very low-fat, low-sodium healthy diet.

So I decided to bake my dad some heart-healthy muffins he could eat for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. I made the first batch with dried cranberries, raisins and walnuts. The second batch I made was with apricots instead of the raisins. And guess where the apricots were from?

You guessed it. Turkey!

Apparently, the Wal-Mart brand dried apricots are from Turkey, according to the packaging. But I’m not surprised.

In fact, Turkey produces 80% of dried apricots in the world.

My parents were surprised too.

Anyway these muffins are hearty, healthy and tasty. I rewarmed mine and added a dab of honey on them.

I’m not sure you can find oat flour or oat bran cereal in Istanbul or elsewhere in Turkey. I have seen rolled oats, so you might be able to try buğday kepeği or yulaf kepeği as a substitute.

Hope you enjoy the muffins! Feel free to substitute with your favorite dried fruits and nuts in the recipe. I’m a fan of hazelnuts too.

Afiyet olsun!
Homemade oat, cranberry, apricot and walnut muffins.

Oat, Cranberry and Apricot Muffins
(Adapted from the New American Heart Association Cookbook)

Yields: 22-24 muffins

1 ½        c.               oat bran cereal or oat flour
1 ½        c.               all-purpose flour
2            tsp.            baking powder
1            tsp.            baking soda
1            tsp.            ground cinnamon

1            c.            buttermilk or Turkish ayran
½            c.            honey
½            c.            egg substitute such as Egg Beaters (or 2 large eggs)
¼            c.            brown sugar
3            T.             corn or sunflower oil

½            c.            walnuts
½            c.            cranberries
½            c.            Turkish apricots, diced small
(Or substitute 1 cup of your favorite dried fruit for the cranberries and apricots.)
All the muffin ingredients ready to be used.
Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C. Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl, stir together the first five ingredients.

Make a well in the middle.
Whisk in the buttermilk, honey, egg substitute, brown sugar and oil. Stir until the mixture is moistened. Add the walnuts and dried fruit.

Do not overmix. Stir the mixture together until no flour is visible. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

Fill the paper baking cups a little over halfway full. I sprinkled mine with rolled oats on top for a little extra texture.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

After nearly running into a passing car on a narrow bridge, we continued on a rough “village” road filled with potholes and bumps.

Grandpa kept asking where we were taking them. He thought we were in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. We were only 30 km outside of Fethiye.

“Don’t worry, grandpa. We’ve driven on roads here that are a lot worse. One time, Jason almost drove into a herd of sheep crossing the road in the middle of the night,” I told him.

My response was not reassuring as we continued on the hole riddled road.

When we drove past the ruins of Tlos perched on a hill, all I could say was “amazing.” For a moment, I gazed at the Lycian tombs carved in the rock in the hillside. I couldn’t look long because I was driving.
On the left-hand side, you can see some of the Lycian tombs at Tlos, Turkey.
“We’re going to go hiking up that hill and explore Tlos while you and grandma rest at a nice park,” I told grandpa.

Jason and I could tell the grandparents still didn’t know what to think of the situation.

After passing olive, pine and pomegranate trees, we finally found and stopped at the Orjinal Tlos Yakapark Restaurant. I had read about this green park on Turkey’s For Life blog and thought it would be a pleasant place for the grandparents to relax while we explored nearby Tlos. At 89 and 83 years old, respectively, hiking is not something they want to do anymore.
The Orjinal Tlos Yakapark Restaurant near the ruins of Tlos, Turkey.
We walked by the manmade waterfalls in the restaurant, saw the trout swimming at the bar and found a comfortable place for them to sit. I spoke to a server in Turkish and explained the situation, asking him to take care of our “büyükanne ve büyükbaba.”
We all took turns petting or tickling the trout that swam in the middle of the bar at Yakapark Restaurant.
Relaxing huts and manmade waterfalls at Yakapark Restaurant.
Grandma and grandpa urged us to go. They were fine. Jason and I trekked off to Tlos for about 90 minutes.

When we returned from Tlos, the grandparents were having a good time. They liked the shaded hut where they were sitting, listening to the water and watching the people come and go.

“I have to tell you I didn’t know where you were just leaving us, but this has been really nice,” grandpa quipped.
Jason and me with our grandparents at Yakapark Restaurant.
Yakapark is a lovely shaded park and restaurant where you cannot help but relax. It also reminded me of a similar restaurant we went to near Olympos two years ago. At both, you can order the restaurant’s trout for lunch.

We ordered a few drinks and snacks instead of the trout as we weren’t that hungry. Grandpa liked drinking Turkish Efes beer. So do we.
Snacks - French fries and sigara böreği, a Turkish fried pastry filled with
 cheese and herbs. 
All in all, we spent about 3 hours at Yakapark, but I could have stayed even longer. In fact, I thought the huts or the hammock would be a fantastic place for a little afternoon nap.

The roads may be a little rough to get to Yakapark, but the drive is definitely worth it.
How could you not want to take a little nap in the hammock by the water here at Yakapark?
How to get there:
From Fethiye, follow the Antalya-Fethiye Yolu (D400) road for about 20 km, turn right when you see the brown sign for Tlos. Once you pass the ruins on your right-hand side, you have about 6 more km to go before you reach Yakapark.

Beware of the Yakapark imposters because two other restaurants have copied the name and you will see the signs for all three. Turn left and follow the road past a cemetery. Then, you will see a large “Hoşgeldiniz” sign and a parking lot.

Approximate GPS coordinates: 36.571372, 29.441275

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fethiye is an excellent place in Turkey to get away from the big-city life in Istanbul.

In fact, out of all the beachy areas we've traveled to in Turkey, I think Fethiye is my favorite place. Antalya and Bodrum, though both beautiful, are just too touristy for my liking.

This charming resort city, located along the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean Sea, has a relaxed, friendly vibe that made me wish I could stay longer.

Since we visited at the end of September, there weren't as many tourists here and it wasn't crowded. Grandma and grandpa were quite happy to have a quiet weekend outside of Istanbul.

If you decide to travel to Fethiye to relax as well, I'd highly recommend staying at the Alesta Yacht Hotel, located along the Fethiye Marina. We were very pleased with the staff, service and our room, and thoroughly enjoyed several cocktails and dinner one night on the rooftop. The view, as you can see in my photo, is spectacular especially at night.
A view of the Fethiye Marina at night taken from the rooftop bar of the Alesta Yacht Hotel.
Right now, I'm far away from Turkey, waiting for my connecting flight to Nebraska and taking advantage of the free wifi at the Charlotte International Airport in North Carolina. I'll be spending a week with my family and hope to catch up on some writing when I have time.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My husband’s grandparents have traveled to the European side and Asian side and back in Istanbul during the past 2 weeks.

We’ve been busy which should explain my lack of posts recently. Here’s a summary of the top 5 tips I’ve learned from our grandparents while touring around Istanbul.

1. Ask them what they would like to see.

Since I’ve lived in Istanbul for more than 2 years, I know the main tourist sites to see. However, it’s best to ask them what they would like to see and do. Grandpa had requested a boat ride and to be by the sea. So we made sure we did a two-hour Bosphorus cruise, took a ferry to Kadıköy and had brunch along the Bosphorus near Rumeli Hisarı.
Taking a 2-hour Bosphorus cruise is a very relaxing activity to do with grandparents in Istanbul.
2. Then, hire a private guide.
I contacted several of my expat friends and asked for tour guide recommendations. I chose Salih of My Local Guide Istanbul. His girlfriend is in one of my expat groups, so I felt comfortable going with someone whom I kind of knew.

One morning, I dropped off the grandparents to meet Salih in Sultanahmet. They toured through Topkapı Palace, the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque and the Bascilica Cistern while I went home to bake. I chose these places as I’ve already been through them several times. Around 5 p.m., I picked up the grandparents and we enjoyed a drink together with Salih before we headed home.

They told me Salih was very patient with them, allowed them to rest often, assisted them up stairs and also was knowledgeable and funny. Exactly what I hoped to hear! And the tour was affordable! Some of the private tours I had been quoted as much as 300 to 350 Euros for 8 hours.

On the second day, we joined Salih’s Istanbul Heritage Tour. Lucky for us, we ended up being the only ones so we had another private tour, just a half-day this time. This tour took us through Istanbul’s neighborhoods of Balat, Fener, Eyüp and up to the Pierre Loti Café. (More on this tour in another post.)
Grandma and Grandpa with Salih, our friendly guide, at Pierre Loti Cafe in Istanbul.
The grandparents really enjoyed marveling at the 16th-century Greek Orthodox Church in Fener called The Church of St. George (Aya Yorgi Kilisesi).
Inside the Church of St. George (Aya Yorgi Kilisesi) in Istanbul.
On the second to last day, we did a third tour with my friend Kathy of Istanbul Personal Shopper. She helped us navigate the maze of streets that make up the Grand Bazaar.

3. Take a taxi.
I usually prefer to take public transportation in Istanbul because it’s cheaper. However, with the grandparents, I realized a taxi often was an easier solution. A taxi to Kabataş and then a tramway ride for 3 people (with my akbil) would cost 18 tl while a taking a taxi all the way from our apartment to Eminönü was just 15 tl. If I took a taxi all the way to Sultanahmet, cutting through the neighborhood of Cağaloğlu, the cost was 20 tl.

Taking a taxi reduced the amount of walking we did, making the trip more enjoyable for our grandparents.

4. Go slow.
I am a fast walker. Grandparents are not fast walkers. I learned to take my time, helped them go up stairs and get across the busy streets of Istanbul and chose different sidewalks or streets that I knew were flatter or more accessible.

Going slower also made me less stressed. I knew I did not have to hurry or rather couldn’t hurry. If we arrived a little late, no worries. Or I planned ahead and allowed myself to have more time to get somewhere.
Grandpa enjoyed the views along the Bosphorus.
5. Be flexible.
I’m a major planner, but sometimes my plans fell through. On Sunday, the Bosphorus boat cruises were packed full of people. We scrapped that plan and toured the Ayasofya instead.

If you’re older and hesitated before about traveling to Turkey, I hope this post shows that you can do it. Grandma is 82 and Grandpa is 89. Luckily, they are both in fairly good health so we were able to show them Istanbul and spend a pleasant weekend in Fethiye. We've been quite fortunate!

Grandpa says he’s going tell all his friends back in New Jersey that he’s felt very safe and enjoyed his visit very much in Istanbul. 

Hope to see more grandparents in Istanbul soon!
If you're lucky, you can capture views like this one when you take a ferry boat over
to the Asian side in Istanbul.