Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I used to stuff my suitcases with all kinds of pork and foreign cheeses whenever we traveled and returned to Istanbul.

Funny enough, I now live in the land of pork in Poland. I swear there are more kinds of pork products here than I have ever seen in life including bacon flavored potato chips!

Although I have ready access to all the pork I could ever want, there are many things I still miss from my life in Turkey. Two weeks ago, when I returned to Istanbul for a one-week visit, I came prepared with a long shopping list.
Here's an overview photo of all the things I brought back from Turkey to Poland.
On day one, I visited Bilge, my favorite spice girl at Ucuzcular in the MısırÇarşısı (Spice Bazaar). I bought almond flour, ground cinnamon and cumin, dried thyme, pomegranate lokum (Turkish delight), 10 vanilla beans, Turkish pistachios and nar ekşisi (sour pomegranate sauce). I still have many unopen Turkish spices from our recent move. Soon, I’ll make my own vanilla extract using Polish vodka. I’m sure I could find some of the other items here in Warsaw, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.
Photo of Bilge and me in her shop courtesy of Bilge. Thank you!
On my second day in Istanbul, I visited the 4Levent pazar and bought three inexpensive refills for my nazar incense diffuser. One stall sells the freshest scents such as lilyum (lily), beyaz yasemin (white jasmine) and deniz ferahlığı (sea breeze) from a company called Wickerist. Again, I easily could find incenses elsewhere, but I really like these.

At the Grand Bazaar, I only had a small list that included ceramic trivets and small serving bowls. Well, as you know I also splurged on a Kurdish-made kilim I mentioned on this post: WhyI still Love Istanbul & You Should Too. On my way out, I noticed one of my regular stall holders had started selling the cutest ikat-patterned slippers; and since I actually found a pair in my gigantic size, I had to buy them for only 60 tl.
Here are a couple other odd items from Turkey I brought to Poland:
  • A box of Turkish çayfor those days when I don’t want to make a whole pot of tea for myself.
  • Handwoven Turkish hand towels from Jennifer’s Hamambecause I had to get colors to match my new bathrooms at our apartment.
  • 3 sheets of yufka – because I miss eating Turkish börek and want to make my own.
  • Biber salsacı – I love using this Turkish pepper paste to coat vegetables with and roast them as Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table taught me in our cooking classes together.
  • Üzüm Pekmezi – I used to use this grape molasses to make my own brown sugar for baking. However, üzüm pekmezi is often mixed with tahini and served as part of a traditional Turkish breakfast too. Please visit Kerry over at Earth Laughs in Flowers for her article about Üzüm Pekmezi.

  • Turkish olive oil soaps – I love this kind of soap! What more can I say!
And if I could pack my friends from Istanbul into my suitcase too I would.

Now, it’s your turn: What Turkish items do you bring back to your home country? Or what odd things do you pack in your suitcase to bring back home? 

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Day Trip from Warsaw

Undeterred by such comments as all the good castles in Poland are located near Krakow or Gdańsk, we set out explore on our own this weekend. 

We simply wanted to get out of the city for the day, and hubby didn’t want to spend the whole day driving. Road trips were one of our favorite things when we lived in Turkey, and people sometimes questioned our destinations such as Edirne and Konya as well.

Located 95 km (60 miles) north of Warsaw, the medieval Castle of the Dukes of Mazovia (Zamek Książąt Mazowieckich) sits nearly in the center of the small burb of Ciechanów (see map). You can’t miss this 15th century castle, built on the order of Duke Janusz I, on the edge of the small river of Łydyni.
Inside, there are a few display cases housing old coins, pottery and swords found onsite during 20th century renovations. Unfortunately, all the displays and history information is in Polish.
The castle itself is not that impressive, has been in ruins for many years and still is undergoing massive renovations. In 1803, the Prussians, who ruled a large part of Mazovia, demolished buildings inside the castle, but thankfully left the outer walls, which remained largely intact even to this day.
According to the museum’s website, the castle already began to decline back in 1495 following the death of Janusz II. About 50 years later, repairs were made by Queen Bona (wife of Sigismund the Old Jagiello), but ended after her departure from Poland in 1556. In the mid-17th century, during the “Swedish Deluge,” the castle was occupied by the Swedes and burned.

This highlight of visiting the castle in Ciechanów was getting to go up in the two round towers. One had served as the arsenal, and the southeastern one was used as a prison. We asked (badly) in Polish via Google Translate whether we could go up in the towers since the doors were locked. Within five minutes, we joined a group tour all in Polish, but at least we got to take photos from the rooftops.
The group was kind enough to let us foreigners join, since we understood nothing. A smile still works wonders, and at least we can say “dziękuję!” (thank you) in Polish.

Our group consisting of two Americans, one Swedish friend and one Turkish friend explored the castle in about an hour. I think, especially if you have children, visiting the Castle of the Dukes of Mazovia would be a fun afternoon outing.

Or if you are big kids like us, you are bound to have fun too!
I  couldn't help but goof around as we all took turns sticking our heads in the stocks.
Perhaps the beginning of a joke: So a Turk, Swede and American walks into a Polish castle.
Castle of the Dukes of Mazovia (Zamek Książąt Mazowieckich)
ul. Zamkowa 1
Ciechanów, Poland
Phone: +48 23 672 40 64


Admission: 6 PLN

Instead of driving, you can take the train from Warsaw Centralny to Ciechanów. The train station is located 2.2 km from the castle. Please check this site for train schedules to Ciechanów.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I love outdoor markets for their vibrant colors, the tantalizing smells, the different ingredients and the local people.

In my mind, no trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to a local pazar (think farmer’s market meets flea market). Every neighborhood in Istanbul hosts a pazar on different days of the week. When we lived here, we would frequent the large Saturday pazar in Beşiktaş
near our apartment.

This time, since I’m not a visitor in Istanbul, I decided to go to the Tuesday 4Levent pazar because it’s conveniently located near the metro stop. This one is known as the Salı Pazar in Turkish. Every now and then, I used to meet friends here for a quick shopping excursion and perhaps lunch.

This pazar also is home to my favorite gözleme (a Turkish version of a freshly made quesadilla) seller. He also can be found cooking up hot gözleme on Thursdays at the Ulus pazar under the Bosphorus bridge. In addition, his family makes some really great dolmas you can take home for later.

Another reason I wanted to stop by this specific pazar is that there is one stall run by a Chinese family. The mother and son, I think, sell the odd, cheap bric a brac from China. I bought a few of the hand-held fans and nylon shopping bags, which are great for holding your fresh produce purchased at the pazar.

I took several photos this time so you can experience the pazar for yourself. The summertime really is the best in Turkey because the stalls are so colorful.

Afiyet olsun!
Take the metro to the 4Levent stop.
Follow the exit signs for Yenilevent.
Once outside, walk past the bus stops. Turn right.
Walk about 3 blocks and then turn right again at the simit seller.
You really can’t miss the pazar, and you simply can follow all the ladies with their shopping bags and trolleys!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Having just spent a week in my beloved Istanbul, I can reassure you that it’s definitely worth visiting even right now.

Tourism in Turkey seems to have declined sharply, especially in Istanbul, since the events revolving around the Gezi Park protests started in late May. I saw signs of this stillness nearly everywhere I went on the European side. (For another first-hand account, please see this July 18 blog post by Turkish travel writer Pat Yale: Silence Falls on Sultanahmet.)

Istiklal Street at night was eerily quiet. Usually packed cafés and restaurants were half filled (if they were so lucky) with hungry people. My six girlfriends and I had the normally-packed, reservation-only Sensus Wine Bar near Galata Tower practically to ourselves.
A very quiet Istiklal Street in Istanbul.
I hung out in Taksim on last Monday afternoon and evening and for about five hours on Tuesday afternoon. No problems. I will mention there was more police presence up by the square, but that’s all I saw both days. However, on Saturday nights, Taksim is best avoided as the Turkish police still get tear gas happy. 
Here's an afternoon view of Taksim Square taken near Gezi Park, overlooking the construction.
One of my girlfriends stayed six nights at a boutique hotel near Galatasaray for only 35 euros per night compared to the normal 129 euros per night. She was told she could stay as late as she wanted when she requested a late check-out as the hotel was dead. Because there are fewer tourists, you may get an unheard of hotel rate like my friend!

Even if it is summertime and Ramazan, I have never seen Istanbul this quiet in the three years that I lived here!

An afternoon visit to the Grand Bazaar yielded the same results. My kebab guy was ecstatic to see me. “Where have you been abla?” He served us delicious portions of patlıcan soslu and aclılı ezme on the house.

Later on, I got a steal of deal on a beautiful Kurdish kilim. His friends wished him well on his sale. “Inshallah” my girlfriend heard the Turkish rug dealer say as we returned to his third-generation family store. I hadn’t planned to buy a kilim, but I couldn’t resist the deal.
I loved both of these kilims, but I chose and purchased the one on the right.
I’m saddened to see Istanbul in this state. These small shopkeepers don’t deserve this treatment that has befallen them as a result of the actions by the Turkish government. Less adventurous tourists are afraid to travel here as they see images of the Turkish police reacting haphazardly with water cannons and tear gas in the Taksim area.

I’m certainly not happy with the Turkish government and their ridiculous responses to the protesters. However, I won’t get into that rant right now.

But I do want to remind you why you should visit and love Istanbul as much as I do!

7 Reasons to Love Istanbul

The changing colors of the Bosphorus is one of the many things I miss about Istanbul. The early mornings can turn the waters a hard, steel gray and then a sparkling, brilliant shade of blue or turquoise in the afternoon and even a murky black as the day wears on. Find a café and enjoy the cool sea breeze, or take a vapur ride along the Bosphorus.
A view of the Bosphorus from the Bostanci neighborhood on the Asian side of the city.
Regular readers know how much I love visiting this bustling neighborhood. On my first full day in Istanbul, I paid a visit to Bilge, my favorite spice girl at Ucuzcular in the Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar). This is THE place to stock up on high quality Turkish spices. I spent 150 tl on my supplies because I’m not sure when I’ll be back again yet.
Every neighborhood in Istanbul hosts a pazar (outdoor market) on different days of the week. This visit, I stopped at the Tuesday 4Levent pazar (a 5-minute walk from the Yenilevent exit at the 4Levent metro stop). I enjoyed a cheese and spinach gözleme as a late breakfast. Going to a pazar gives you a chance to see the local color of the city.
Turkish Food
I could go on and on about the Turkish food I ate on this trip in Istanbul. I’m pretty sure I gained another kilo. How could I turn down my favorite balkaymak or künefe? There were kebabs and mezes galore! I’ll tell you more in another post.
Even if you aren’t a regular customer, you’re bound to get offered çay as soon as you walk into a shop. From the Spice Bazaar to the Grand Bazaar to my shoe repair guy to my Turkish towel shop, I was offered copious amounts of çay. Even if my Turkish was a little rusty, I enjoyed having conversations here. I miss the welcoming Turkish hospitality.
I think one of the things that’s always fascinated me about Istanbul is its long, rich and colorful history. The city is ancient compared to America where I’m from. I still love seeing the city’s historic Byzantine walls, the minarets of the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower and cobblestone streets. These are things that make Istanbul unique and why tourists come to visit.
Most importantly, I miss all my friends in Istanbul. I have cried, laughed, lamented over Turkish, traveled, confided in and celebrated with these friends. It’s been difficult moving to a new city and starting the process of making friends all over again. I have a feeling though many of my Istanbul friends will be friends for life. Even if you are a tourist in Istanbul, don’t be surprised if make a Turkish friend or two.

I could go on and on about why I love Istanbul, but you should really see this beautiful city for yourself. The city and its shopkeepers need your support!

(For additional reading, please see this July 20 article in The Guardian: The ongoing Turkish protests have left us enlightened and emboldened.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

One of my favorite weekend activities in Istanbul is having a full Turkish breakfast along the Bosphorus.

During the week, I only make time for a bowl of cereal or yogurt with fresh fruit. But this week on Wednesday morning, I woke up at 6:30 and pushed my kind hosts, Nicole and Kartal, to get up as well so we could have breakfast before they went to work in Istanbul. 

Kartal drove so we arrived at the popular Kale Cafe at Rumelihisari shortly after 7. He took charge of the ordering. My only request was balkaymak that I later practically licked the bowl clean! I love Turkish kaymak!

To me, a full Turkish breakfast is one of the best breakfasts in the world! I love the sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, variety of cheeses, freshly baked breads, copious amounts of çay and perhaps some eggs and sucuk if you are lucky. 

This is just one of the many things I miss about Istanbul!
How could you NOT love this view in Istanbul?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tear gas and water cannons be damned! Today, I'm returning to my beloved Istanbul for a one-week visit.

My goggles and pashmina are packed.

I have my Turkish shopping list ready for Eminönü, the 4Levent pazar and the Grand Bazaar. I plan to eat my regular gözleme at the pazar.

I have lots of running around to do, friends to see and photos I want to take. A friend is even hosting a potluck dinner for me in Sultanahmet.

I cannot wait to sip Turkish çay along the Bosphorus or along the backstreets in Istanbul.

One week just isn't enough, but I plan to certainly make the best of it. 

Stay tuned or follow me on Instagram to see more Istanbul photos this week.



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrating 4th of July Abroad – Year 3

Today is an exciting day as my in-laws will be arriving here in Warsaw!

It’s also the Fourth of July back in the U.S.A.; and, this is the first time we’ll be celebrating with family since we moved abroad in 2010.

While most Americans will be grilling hamburgers outside today, I will be introducing my in-laws to Polish pierogies and Zywiec Beer. We’ll be strolling through the cobblestone streets of Old Town Square and admiring the Royal Castle.

It certainly won’t be a traditional Fourth of July by any means, but I did make a festive dessert for the occasion.

Since the Polish markets are bursting with berries right now, I bought a bunch of blueberries and ruby red raspberries to make my all-time favorite summer cobbler. This is a recipe I’ve used for several years with all kinds of fruit.
What's nice about this dessert is that you can use this recipe year-round with whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand such as rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, etc.

I fancied up my traditional cobbler with an idea I “borrowed” from Pinterest. (You can find me pinning away all things Polish and Turkish and favorite recipes here on Pinterest.) When you roll out your cobbler dough, cut out various star shapes and place them on top of your fruit.

Voilà! You instantly have a festive Fourth of July berry cobbler!

Hope all my American friends, wherever you may be, have a fun and safe Fourth of July!

Smacznego! (Bon appétit in Polish)
Seasonal Fruit Cobbler

1          kilo.     (about 7 c.)      raspberries and blueberries (or whatever fruit combination you prefer)
2          Tablespoons                corn starch
110      g.         (1/2 c.)             granulated sugar

Cobbler Dough:
220      g.         (1 2/3 c.)          all-purpose flour
55        g.         (1/4 c.)             granulated sugar (plus a little more for sprinkling on top)
1 1/2    teaspoon                      baking powder
1/2       teaspoon                      salt
70        g.         (5 T.)               cold butter, cut into small pieces
120      ml.       (1/2 c.)             whole milk (plus a little more for brushing on top the dough.)

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Add the fruit, and toss to coat.
Transfer the fruit mixture to a medium-sized glass baking dish (about 20 cm by 26 cm or a standard 9"x13" pan) with sides that are about 5 cm. deep.

Set aside while making the cobbler dough.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the cold butter, using your fingertips (or paddle attachment), rub the butter together with the dry ingredients until a coarse meal forms. Then add the milk. Mix just until the ingredients come together.

Gather the dough together into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead 5 or 6 times.

Then, roll the dough about 12 mm thick. Using star cookie cutters, cut out stars. Arrange the dough stars on top of the fruit. Brush the tops with milk and then sprinkle granulated sugar or raw sugar on top.
Here is the unbaked cobbler sprinkled with raw sugar.
 Bake the cobbler until the fruit is bubbling and the cobbler dough is cooked through and a golden brown on top, about 30 minutes.

I like to serve my cobbler while still fairly hot/warm with ice cream.

The cobbler can be made 4 hours or so in advance and then rewarmed as needed. (NOTE: this time, I made the cobbler the night before and it seems just fine too.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

One fact that I am finding out quickly is that the Poles love mushrooms!

Lately at the markets  in Warsaw, I’ve see older ladies selling small boxes of the most dainty Chanterelle mushrooms (kurek or kurka in Polish) I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s no sign indicating the price, and I have no clue how to ask in Polish. 

On Saturday at Hala Mirowska (the farmer’s market), I finally found some stalls with prices – 36 zł (about $11 USD) per kilo.
Polish gooseberries also are in season now here in Warsaw!
Last week, I had the most delicious soup made with these seasonal Chanterelle mushrooms at this nearby winebar called Mielżyński. Immediately, I started deciphering the soup’s ingredients - potatoes, carrots, the mushrooms, lots of dill and definitely a touch of heavy cream.
The restaurant version of "Zupa z Kurek."
However, trying to find a proper Polish recipe for Zupa z Kurek proved challenging. On some web sites, kurek translated to taps or cock. Umm, not sure that’s what I wanted to cook.

So I did what any good cook or chef does, I re-created my own recipe. As you know, I love soups because they are easy to make and fill you up. Some recipes called for mushroom broth, but I simply used chicken stock.

My soup recipe below only should take you about one hour to make from start to finish. If there are any Poles out there, please share with me your Zupa z Kurek tips!

Smacznego! (Bon appétit in Polish)
My version of "Zupa z Kurek."
Polish Soup with Chanterelle Mushrooms (Zupa z Kurek)

250      g.         (9 oz.)              Chanterelle mushrooms (Polish kurek), washed and cleaned
2          Tablespoons                butter
1          ea.                                large onion, small diced
6          ea.                                garlic cloves, chopped small

2          ea.                                carrots, peeled and small sliced
450      g.         (16 oz.)            potatoes, peeled and small sliced
1          L.         (32 oz.)            chicken broth
120     ml.        (1/2 cup)          low-fat milk (For true Polish taste, use heavy cream instead.)
A         small handful                fresh dill, finely chopped
To taste                                   salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Clean the mushrooms. Mine were really dirty so I covered them with warm water. Let stand for a few minutes, then drain and rinse. I even used my salad spinner to get the mushrooms really dry. I kept the mushrooms whole, but you might want to slice in half if you have larger ones.

2. In a medium-sized pot, heat the butter and then sauté the Chanterelle mushrooms 10-15 minutes until softened and some of the extra water is cooked off. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3.  Add the diced onions and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are softened.

4. Then, add the carrots and potatoes, and cover with chicken stock. Cook over medium-high heat until potatoes are softened, 15-20 minutes. Add the mushrooms during the last five minutes to cook. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Lastly, stir in the dill and milk or cream. This soup tastes great as leftovers as well!