Tuesday, April 30, 2013

As an expat, going to the doctor or to the kuaför (Turkish hair salon) are two experiences that can make you cry.

Well, at least if you are a woman.

I’ve dealt with both while living in Istanbul.

Actually, I’ve left several different American hair stylists in tears as well after a haircut or coloring gone wrong. I’ve had my hair colored all different shades of blonde and brown over the years, including a fluffy, blonde perm in the early 1990s (picture on right). What was I thinking?

Finding a good hair stylist is important no matter where you live. In Istanbul, at least I was referred to a Turkish guy that speaks a little English, but is a little too proud of his çok altın (very gold) highlights every time.

Evet, Tekken Bey, çok güzel, çok altın,” I always tell him.

At least, I like the cut, and the price is fair, so I can’t complain too much. It sure beats trying to figure out what box of hair dye I would use instead. I’ve heard of other expat friends paying 300 tl or more for a haircut and color in Etiler and Istinye Park too. No, thanks!

Finding a doctor, especially a good OB/GYN, also is problematic. I’ve relied on friends’ recommendations and have had mixed results.

First, I ended up at the American Hospital with a female doctor, whom delivered six of my friends’ babies, but I thought she had an unfriendly bedside manner. Her English was near perfect, but she was always icy toward me and my husband. Not exactly the kind of personality you want to deal with when you’re trying to get pregnant.

Then, earlier this year, I went to another OB/GYN – this time a Turkish male – at the German Hospital. He was kind, friendly, answered all my questions and didn’t treat me like an idiot.

However, I had to go to another clinic for some specialty tests in an unfamiliar part of the city. It was raining. I was lost and in near tears until a friendly, older Turkish gentleman helped me find where I needed to go.

No one spoke English at this clinic. I was okay for awhile, but my Turkish comprehension doesn’t cover medical terms.

I lay down on the cold, flat table so the tests could begin. I was uncomfortably half way undressed. I was exposed and vulnerable. I wished I had a friend with me to hold my hand. I wished my husband was there.

The technician explained some things in Turkish that I didn’t really understand. “Kesmek?” Doesn’t that mean “to cut” in Turkish? Dear, god!

That’s when the tears started. The tears kept coming. I couldn’t help it.

I didn’t understand, and I was alone. The exam seemed to last forever, but in reality took only 10 minutes or so.

Some days that’s what my expat life is like here. I don’t understand, and I feel completely like a foreigner.

As an expat, have you ever had a similar experience going to the doctor or hair stylist while you lived abroad?

Friday, April 26, 2013

I even fooled my dad into thinking this snack was pumpkin bread!

Last week, I was in Nebraska visiting my family; and of course, I couldn’t help but whip up a few healthy recipes in the kitchen. I always like to leave a few different things in the fridge or freezer before I leave.

See, my mom tends to make the same recipes over and over. There’s very little variety. When I was a child, you could count on Sunday meatloaf, Tuesday tacos and Friday pizza practically like clockwork. Today, things haven’t changed much except now the sodium, butter and fat content is almost nil.

When I’m home, I try and spice things up a little bit.

I’ve made this heart-healthy pumpkin quick bread recipe a couple of times. This time, I decided to make a mash or puree from some withering sweet potatoes and parsnips that mom had in the pantry. Then, I’d use this mixture to substitute for the pumpkin puree in the original recipe. When I worked in NYC, we once made a parsnip and maple cake. I knew the flavors would be good, but mom was skeptical – as always.

“You know dad won’t eat that,” she told me while I was in the kitchen.

See, I’m an optimist – the complete opposite of my mom. I figured if I added enough cinnamon and nutmeg, my dad really wouldn’t taste the difference. Both sweet potatoes and parsnips contain natural sugars. I like them both roasted with savory spices or sweetened for desserts.

Just to be safe, I also made one batch of normal pumpkin bread.

Once the smell of spices and baking permeated the kitchen, I sliced up the sweet potato and parsnip quick bread version, buttered it with heart-healthy margarine and served two slices on a plate to my dad.

“This is good,” he told me.

“Dad, did you know you’re eating vegetables?” I asked.

He shook his head no as he ate another bite of my sweet potato and parsnip quick bread.

Afiyet olsun!
Note: if you are reading this post in Istanbul I know it’s difficult to find sweet potatoes, and parsnips simply don’t exist. Save this recipe for the next time balkabak is in season. Also a 1/2 cup of egg substitute equals 2 large eggs, or you could sub 2 egg whites for one of the eggs to reduce the fat content.

For more sweet potato and parsnip recipes, please check out: Carole's Chatter: Food on Friday.

Healthy Sweet Potato & Parsnip Quick Bread
(Adapted from the American Heart Assn. Cookbook)

2          c.                     all-purpose flour
2          tsp.                  baking powder
1          tsp.                  ground cinnamon
1          tsp.                  ground ginger
¼         tsp.                  freshly grated nutmeg
1/8       tsp.                  salt

1          c.                     cooked, mashed sweet potatoes and parsnips OR canned pumpkin puree
½         c.                     egg substitute such as Egg Beaters
1/3       c.                     fat-free milk
2          T.                     heart-healthy margarine, melted
1          T.                     canola or vegetable oil

½         c.                     chopped walnuts
½         c.                     granulated sugar
½         c.                     brown sugar
1. If you want to make a sweet potato and parsnip puree, first peel 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes and 2 parsnips. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in a small pot with an inch or so of water. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Drain off any extra water. I used a fork to mash the sweet potatoes and parsnips together. Alternatively, use a food processor and puree together. (Note: you will have extra “mash,” but it easily can be frozen in a plastic bag or placed in ice cube trays to make cubes and used for another recipe.)
Sweet potato and parsnip mash
2. Preheat the oven to 350 F/176 C. Lightly grease a large metal loaf pan or use two smaller loaf pans.

3. In a large bowl, combine and sift the first six, dry ingredients together.

4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Then, add the wet ingredients – puree, egg substitute, milk, margarine and oil. Mix together.
5. Lastly, add the walnuts and two sugars. Mix well together until you no longer see the flour.

6. Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake the two loaves for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown and the center is done. If you are using a large loaf pan, the baking time should be increased to about 60 minutes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I've always been on the lookout for yabancı products in Istanbul.

Now, there’s another gourmet shop nearby in Nişantaşı with specialty products such as sesame oil, HP sauce, dulce de leche and most importantly, foreign cheeses, deli meats and beers.

Last month, Milano Gourmet opened up in a corner space formerly occupied by an expensive furniture store. I’ve been watching this space for awhile since I walk by here to get to the metro. Finally, the space is being used for something worthwhile.
 Inside, you’ll find a gigantic refrigerated section filled with tons of Turkish mezze items, Turkish cheese and deli meats as well as Parmesan, mascarpone, gouda, gruyere and Spanish manchego cheeses. (The shop’s selection is very similar to the items at Şütte, which is just a few blocks away.) 
At the far end, you’ll find a tiny section devoted to domuz – yep, pork products get their own corner. Skinny bacon, prosciutto and Italian deli meats live here. The sales guy smiled at me when I asked if the store had domuz.

In the beer section, you’ll find foreign beers such as Duvel, Peroni, Brooklyn Lager, Corona and a few others I didn’t recognize. My beloved Brooklyn Lager does cost 12.50 tl per bottle, but it’s the only place I’ve seen it for sale now. La Cave used to sell it, but doesn’t anymore.
I had originally posted this photo on Instagram when I found my beer.
 Downstairs you’ll find a wine cellar and a small wine bar. That part wasn’t open yet when I last popped into Milano. Looks like you should be able to enjoy a glass of wine or get a bottle to share with friends here after work.

Milano Gourmet also sells olive oils produced in different parts of the Aegean region, squid ink pasta, sushi rice, risotto and Jaime Oliver’s (complete) line of pestos and pasta sauces (which I found a bit odd). However, in case you haven’t heard, Oliver is set to open his first restaurant in Turkey, Jaimie’s Italian, at the mega complex of Zorlu Center in Istanbul later this year.

You never know what you’ll find at Milano Gourmet.

Afiyet olsun!

Şakayık Sokak, Çınar Apt. No:54/1A
Nişantaşı, Istanbul
Phone: 0212-233-1033

Monday, April 22, 2013

In NYC, some friends have told me they never venture north of a certain address, say north of 59th Street.

Too bad! These friends are missing out on one of the best nights I’ve ever had up in Harlem on 125th Street.

During my recent U.S. trip, we met up with old friends in NYC for an “expat dinner” in our honor at Red Rooster, a soul food-inspired restaurant owned by Marcus Samuelsson, former chef at Aquavit. Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and has been a seven-year resident of Harlem, opened the restaurant in December 2010.
When we walked into Red Rooster at 8 p.m., the bar was two and three people deep, and the dining room was packed. This was a Monday night. On 125th Street. In Harlem. (My friend made the reservation nearly 2 months in advance.) The restaurant was pulsing with energy and excitement. Members of the live blues and jazz band were setting up with their instruments.

I repeat, this was a Monday night!

In the past, maybe 10 years ago or so, Harlem wasn’t necessarily a neighborhood you would GO to in Manhattan. But in recent years, Harlem has been gentrifying with refurbished brownstones and turning into a modern place where you DO want to go and hang out with friends.

Red Rooster is a part of the new, modern Harlem.

Our group started with a round of drinks at the bar where a handsome bartender donning a bowtie was working. I selected a sweet drink, aptly named “Yes, chef,” that contained mint-infused vodka, ginger beer, pineapple and spices. I think I had two more of these during dinner!

Once we sat down at our table, we ordered three appetizers – crab cakes with a fiery mayonnaise, smoked trout with a green goddess dressing and a smoked salmon tartare. The smoked trout was my favorite.

The restaurant’s famous corn bread, cut in gigantic slabs, arrived with a pat of honey butter and a ramekin of spicy tomato jam. I could have eaten a whole plate of this sweet corn bread!

Our favorite entrees included the fried yard bird (chicken, in the slang of old Harlem) served with a white gravy and  a ramekin of hot sauce and a complicated version of macaroni and cheese, featuring orecchiette pasta and a mix of Gouda, New York Cheddar and Comté cheeses, with a crisp arugula salad on the side. I loved my bite of my friend’s mac-n-cheese!

I was slightly disappointed with my jerk chicken dish because I expected it to be spicier. One of my old roommates was from Barbados, and she made the best, tear-inducing jerk chicken I’ve ever eaten. Another disappointment was the restaurant’s take on dirty rice and shrimp, made with basmati rice and bourbon maple syrup.

Oh well, I guess it’s hit or miss with some of the food. 

For dessert, we ended with fried sweet-potato dumpling holes with cinnamon sugar and the house mud pie served with caramelized bananas. The doughnuts were right up my alley!
All the while we were eating and drinking, the band played familiar-sounding blues and jazz songs. I almost thought I had been transported to New Orleans – one of my favorite southern cities. At one point, I wanted to get up and dance even though there was no room to dance!

We had a blast eating, drinking and hanging out with our good friends in Harlem.

Red Rooster is definitely one address north of 59th Street I’d travel to in NYC anytime!
Hanging out with old friends. Two of my girlfriends here I've known for 30 years!
310 Lenox Avenue (at 125th Street)
New York, NY
Take the 2/3 subway line to 125th Street. The restaurant is just around the corner on Lenox Avenue.
Phone: 212-792-9001

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Greetings from somewhat dreary and slightly snowy Nebraska!

I’m currently spending a week with my family here, but last week we spent four days in Pennsylvania where spring was certainly in the air. We visited family and friends and attended our good friends’ wedding out in western Pennsylvania. The weather has cooperated with us for the most part as we flew and drove hundreds of miles around the East Coast.

One of the sure signs of spring out east is the sunny yellow color of forsynthia blossoms. Almost every front yard contains these cheerful colored bushes. You’ll even see forsynthia randomly along side of the road.
During a few pleasant mornings, we took a stroll through the nearby wooded areas, and I decided to test out my new camera lens on the wildflowers we encountered. I have wanted a 24-105 mm Canon lens for two years. We finally could justify the expensive price tag since I take on average 8,000 photos per year!

This camera lens is amazing and takes some fabulous upclose photos! Just look at the morning dew droplets on some of these wildflowers. And the green moss covering an old log is one of my favorite photos too.

Happy spring (again)! Hopefully, spring will arrive soon for my parents too!
I took this photo out in western PA. Loved the rolling hills and the bright blue skies!

Morning dew droplets on white wildflowers.

We don't see many squirrels in Istanbul, but we did in PA!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

All you can eat sushi – really? I exclaimed to my friend.

The other week, I jumped on this sushi steal even though I was exhausted having traveled back and forth to the Asian side and up to Emirgan. I made a date with my friend to meet at the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet for the hotel’s latest concept – Sushi Thursdays.

Last month, the hotel started this special promotion – all you can eat sushi plus 2 glasses of selected Turkish wine for only 95 TL per person. This is an exceptionally good bargain because one sushi roll in Istanbul costs about 20 TL or more and a glass of wine at the Four Seasons is about 30 TL. And most of the time in the city, the sushi is mediocre at best. At least I knew here, I would be getting my money’s worth since my friend had visited the previous week.
The sushi spread featured salmon, sea bass, tuna and veggie rolls as well as sashimi and nigiri. The pieces of tuna were bloody bright red not the pale listless pink I usually see in my sushi rolls elsewhere here in the city. Plus, there were giant bowls of nose-watering wasabi paste and spicy pickled ginger.
My friend and I were in sushi heaven!

In fact, we each went up to the open buffet, which we practically had to ourselves, three times each. Yes, we were rather piggy, but we couldn’t let this sublime sushi go to waste, now could we?

It turns out the chef also happens to be friends of my favorite spice girl, Bilge at Ucuzcular at the Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar). So we had a chance to meet him and talk to him for a bit.

Who knows how long this sushi deal will last, so call now to make your own reservation for this Thursday.

Afiyet olsun!
Night-time view of the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet

Tel: +90-212 402 3156
Thursdays only, 7-10 p.m.
Cost is 95 TL per person for the open sushi buffet and 2 glasses of Turkish wine.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Generally, I will eat just about anything before I turn my nose up at it.

That excludes Turkish puddings. I hate to say it, but I’m not a big fan. It’s a texture thing.

I find most of the Turkish puddings to be chalky or starchy. They simply don't taste silky smooth compared to a bowl of freshly made French custard. (Note: I also don’t like shrimp because of the texture thing, but I will eat raw oysters. Odd. I know.) I’ve tried them and just don't like them.

So I have avoided the infamous Turkish puddings.

In Istanbul, there are dozens of shops called Muhallebici (translated directly as a dairy bar) that sell a variety of puddings. On a recent outing with Claudia of A Seasonal Cook in Turkey in Istanbul, I tried an extra special type of pudding called tavuk gögsü kazandibi (chicken breast pudding).
Grab a spoon and dive right into this special Ottoman-era pudding in Istanbul!
Yes, this special pudding, dating back to the Ottoman period and served to Sultans at Topkapı Palace, is made from shredded chicken breast. It’s a milky, sweet pudding that is enriched with cinnamon. The chicken is boiled, shredded and ground into a sort of paste. Then the pudding is slowly cooked in a pot until the natural sugars caramelize on the bottom, hence the Turkish phrase kazandibi, which means “bottom of a pot.” You’ll notice the brown “burnt” coloring in my photo.

In my opinion, I think you’ll find the best tavuk gögsü kazandibi at Kısmet Muhallebicisi in Eminönü where Claudia took us. This tiny mom and pop shop also is part of the Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks. I swear you would never even know the pudding contains chicken! And this pudding is smooth and NOT chalky like most!

And if you’re too chicken to try this delicious chicken pudding, you can opt for a dessert without. (Pardon the pun!)

I may be a Turkish pudding convert.

Afiyet olsun!

Address: Kazancılar Cad., Eminönü
Tel: +90-212-513-6773

Friday, April 5, 2013

I simply can’t get enough of the bright tulips blooming here in Istanbul.

So here is part two of the Tulip Time in Emirgan Korusu blog post I shared on Wednesday. I hope you all get a chance to tiptoe through the tulips like we did last weekend.

Which one is your favorite photo?

In case you want to see more tulip photos, please check out the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review’s photo gallery of Istanbul’s tulips.

I love this honeybee photo! It would be perfect for my friend over at Balyolu.

We saw a few Turkish wedding couples taking advantage of the flower backdrops for photos.
Lovers and Tulips
A river of sunset-colored tulips

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Through my blog, I have met some wonderful people online, especially other bloggers like myself.

There is quite a tight knit group of expat bloggers living and writing about their life and travels in Turkey. Luckily, I’ve even met several of these people in person such as Julia and Barry of Turkey’s for Life, Jennifer of The Turkish Life, Julia of A Rock and a Soft Place, Karen of Empty Nest Expat, Cecile of Expat Diaries and Pat of Turkey from the Inside. I love reading all their blogs and appreciate the support and encouragement they’ve given me too.

Most recently, I met up with Maddie of Maddie’s Vine and Claudia of A Seasonal Cook in Turkey in Istanbul. We set out for the day from my favorite neighborhood of Eminönü for a foodie and photography walk. (I still need to edit all these photos.)

Maddie, me and Claudia settling in for a late "lunch" in Fatih.

I stumbled across Claudia’s blog about cooking seasonally shortly after I moved to Turkey in 2010. I love Claudia’s sassy prose and her recipes! She truly puts a lot of love in her food and her posts. Bookmark her site for some delicious Turkish recipes! Lately, she’s been keeping herself busy by being a tour guide for Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks.

Maddie is a relatively newcomer to Istanbul, having just moved here six months ago from South Africa. We met in February through an IWI cooking class. She knew who I was right away because of my blog. I’d previously “met” her through Twitter. It truly is a small online world. She writes about wine in Turkey, South Africa and from her travels.

We had lots of laughs that day on our foodie venture. Claudia, having lived in Turkey for 30+ years, supplied us with a wealth of knowledge that I didn’t know about Istanbul. I even tried some of the best “chicken breast pudding” I’ve ever tasted in Turkey. (That will be in a future blog post too.) We also revisited the Boza shop in Vefa.

Thanks for a wonderful day ladies! I look forward to continue reading your blogs.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Springtime in Istanbul is my favorite time of the year here.

Spring means this bustling city is filled with millions of blooming tulips as I’ve mentioned a few times in the past 3 weeks.

Over the weekend, we trekked out to the Emirgan Korusu (Park) because a friend had told me the tulips already were blooming. We were not disappointed!
I’m guessing that perhaps 40 percent of the tulips are blooming right now. That means, the tulips probably will not be blooming the whole month of April like they usually are. The official opening day of the 8th Annual Tulip Festival is this Sunday, April 7.

If I were you, I’d get to the park as soon as you can. Try to avoid the weekend because the shore road traffic is truly a nightmare.

On Saturday, by the time we had strolled around the park, taken 100 photos and drank our bottle of wine back among the trees, the traffic was bad. So bad in fact that we took a small sea taxi from Emirgan to Kanlıca, then a public bus to Üsküdar, then a quick ferry boat from Üsküdar back to Beşiktaş, and then we walked home. Total travel time was about 1.5 hours, but we got to enjoy a lovely ride along the Bosphorus not just once, but twice.

I took so many tulip photos that I’ve decided to break up the photos into two posts. So today, please enjoy part one of the tulips blooming in Emirgan Korusu.

Happy spring!

How to get to Emirgan Korusu (Park)
By bus – there are dozens of buses that run along the shore road, departing from Beşiktaş and Kabataş. Look for the ones heading toward Sariyer.

By metro and taxi – we tried a new route this time and found it much faster. Take the metro to ITU. Exit the metro following the signs for Büyükdere Caddesi. Then take a 7-tl-fare taxi ride to the rear entrance of the park.

By boat – there is a vapur (ferry boat) that lands at the Emirgan Iskelesi, but the times aren’t that frequent unfortunately. Click here to check the Emirgan vapur schedule.