Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Over the weekend, temperatures dipped down to the coldest it’s been since our move to Warsaw – 0F or -18C.

We decided the freezing temps and snowy weather  meant it was finally time to try grzane piwo (pronounced geh-sza-neh pi-vo) or Polish hot/mulled beer. The idea of hot, spiced beer never appealed to us. In fact, I thought it sounded downright awful, but don’t knock it until you tried it, right?

I had even heard grzane piwo is considered to be good for you when you have a sore throat. Records dating back to the 17th century enthuse about the healthy properties of hot beer.

We happened to be near one of our favorite, funky bars, Spiskowcy Rozkoszy, so we popped in and ordered two grzane piwo. My legs were numb from walking around in the frigid temperatures, so hot beer sounded like a good idea…at the time.

We patiently waited while our bartender heated our beer with honey and spices. The bar also offered grzane piwo with ginger or raspberry syrup. Our pints of frothy, hot beer arrived with straws.
Jason and I did a proper cheers and tried the hot beer. I clearly made a face and knew immediately I did not like my first taste of grzane piwo. I tried to chug down the rest of the glass, but I just couldn’t. The taste reminded me of warmed Budweiser sweetened with honey and spices.

Apparently, grzane piwo is an acquired taste or something you either love or hate. Right now, I’m in the latter camp.

But at least I tried it, and I’ll even give it one more chance. Perhaps the raspberry-flavored one will be better? Or else I’ll stick with my steaming hot mugs of grzane wino (Polish mulled wine) this winter.

Na zdrowie!
Polish mulled wine with a shot of rum or vodka is a much better choice!
One of the snow-covered parks in the Powiśle neighborhood of Warsaw. 
We've received about 6 inches (15 cm.) of snow over the last few days.

Friday, January 24, 2014

As an expat, you learn to adapt, live without or smuggle foodie comforts from home.

Remember that time I “smuggled” a suitcase full of pork from Germany to Istanbul? Or Turkish yufka and spices from Istanbul to Poland? Or Mexican spices and Taylor pork roll from America? I bet the airport security agents have a heyday with my suitcases!

As an expat, you also become resourceful. If a friend is traveling to the U.S. or the U.K., you can bet she’ll be asked to bring x, y or z from another fellow expat.

Last of all, you learn to replicate your favorite recipes as best you can in your new country. I’ve often done this, but recently, my husband gave me this expat request: “Can you make bagels?”
YES - I can make bagels at home! And so can you! :-)
Honestly, I haven’t made bagels since I went to culinary school because you always could find good bagels in America, especially when I lived in NYC.

But then we moved abroad!

When we lived in Istanbul, we had Turkish simit, which is kinda like a bagel, and one restaurant that served the closest thing to an American bagel. One time a girlfriend even “smuggled” over a dozen precious everything bagels from NYC for us!

In Warsaw, you would think you could find some decent bagels, but I’ve only spied some sad, plain-looking bagels at the Marks & Spencer’s store. I like everything bagels with a schmear and hubby likes them with cream cheese and lox. So off I went to the internet to find a recipe so I could make our own Everything Bagels at home!
Sad-looking M&S bagels at the store. 
Making bagels at home turns out to be a lot easier than you think! From start to finish, you can have a perfectly baked and toasted bagel in about 3 hours. If you are a little bit more patient and let the dough rest overnight, you’ll find a near-perfect replica of a chewy NY bagel once you boil and bake it the following day. Honestly, the 3-hour method is good enough for me!

And working with yeast is NOT nearly as scary as you think. In fact, I’ll be teaching how to make these bagels and American cinnamon rolls to my local girlfriends later next month. I swear yeast doesn’t need to be intimidating! Two precautions: never add salt directly to yeast or use too hot of water – both will kill the yeast.

If you are patient and if you have a willing partner like I did, you’ll soon be making your own everything bagels at home!

And the best part is, you don’t even need to be an expat to enjoy these chewy NY-style bagels at home!

Everything Bagels
Adapted from these recipes on SophisticatedGourmet and TheAmateur Gourmet
Yields: 8 normal-sized bagels or 12 “mini” bagels

2          teaspoons                     active dry yeast
1 ½      Tablespoons                granulated sugar
1 ¼      cups     (295 ml)           warm water (110-115 F/43-46 C) (Note: you may need a little more water when mixing the dough.)
3 ½      cups     (500g)             bread flour (I used Polish bread flour called maka pszenna typ 650. If you live in Turkey, use ekmek unu.)
1 ½      teaspoons                     salt

For boiling:
6          qts.                    Hot water
1          Tablespoon      honey
1          Tablespoon      baking soda

Egg wash:
1          ea.                    egg white mixed with a splash of water

Everything toppings:
1          Tablespoon    Turkish börek spice mix (a blend of poppy, flax and sesame seeds)
2          teaspoons       black sesame seeds
2          teaspoons       poppy seeds
1          teaspoon         kosher or large salt granules
½         teaspoon         garlic powder
½         teaspoon         onion powder

1. In a large bowl, add ½ cup (120 ml.) of the warm water, sugar and yeast. Do not stir. Let rest for five minutes, and then stir the yeast and sugar mixture, until it all dissolves in the water.
2. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl (or the mixing bowl of your Kitchenaid). Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast and sugar mixture.
3. Pour half of the remaining warm water into the well.
4. Then, either work the dough by hand or use your Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add a bit of water and mix the dough until you yield a moist and firm dough. Mix on low for about 2 minutes.
5. Next, to knead the dough, I turned my Kitchenaid up to medium speed and let the dough mix for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, tossing in a bit of extra flour as needed. Alternatively, on a floured countertop, knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes.
6. Shape the dough into a large ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough. Cover with a damp towel and let raise in a warm place for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size. (NOTE: I found the top of my refrigerator to be quite warm or my laundry room once I placed a load of laundry in the dryer.)
7. After 1 hour, punch down the dough, and let rest, covered, for another 10 minutes.
8. Turn out the dough onto your countertop. Carefully divide the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. (I used a scale to be extra precise.) Shape each piece into a round ball, moving your hand and the ball in a circular motion while pulling the dough into itself. This may take some practice, but you should end up with a perfect round ball (as pictured).
9. Coat a finger in flour, and gently press your finger into the center of each dough ball to form a ring. Stretch the ring to about ⅓ the diameter of the bagel and place on a lightly oiled baking tray. (At this point, you can place the tray, covered tightly with plastic wrap, into the refrigerator and continue with the following steps the next day.)
10. Cover the shaped bagels with a damp towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425F / 220C. (NOTE: I placed my pizza stone into the oven at this point too.)
11. Bring a large pot of water with the honey and baking soda (both ingredients aid in the bagel’s caramelization and texture) to a boil. Boil the bagels, 3 or 4, at a time for 2 minutes on EACH side for the normal-sized bagels or 1 ½ minutes for the “mini” bagels. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to remove the bagels and let rest on a rack while you boil the remaining bagels.
12. Place the bagels on a baking tray or pizza stone, lined with baking paper. Brush each bagel with the egg wash and then sprinkle the everything bagel spices on top and bottom. (NOTE: if you want lots of topping on your bagels, lightly press the spices onto the top and bottom of the bagel.)
13. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a deep golden brown color.
13. Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
14. Slice a bagel in half, using a serrated knife, and pop into the toaster. Top your sliced bagel with a schmear of cream cheese. Enjoy!
My second batch of bagels included everything ones and plain sesame seed ones.

(NOTE: if you want to freeze your extra bagels, slice each one in half and place in a plastic freezer bag. Then, when you want to enjoy a homemade bagel, all you have to do is pop onto into the toaster and toast.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter officially arrived in Warsaw two days ago.

On Wednesday, snow fell nearly nonstop all day – the first snowfall of 2014! I woke up to more snowflakes this morning, and the snow looks like it won’t be leaving anytime soon according to our extended weather forecast.

Well, for our first winter in Poland, I must admit I’m happy we have escaped the snow for this long. Everyone tells us that we are having an unusual winter. The previous winter lasted from late October in 2012 to the first week of April, when we moved to Warsaw. What a wonderful welcome gift!
Our first day in Warsaw on April 1, 2013.
A true April Fool's Joke courtesy of Mother Nature.
Prior to this week, I had only seen a dusting of snow on December 6 when I arrived bleary eyed from my holiday trip in the U.S. I wouldn’t have minded a little snow on Christmasbut that did not happen. Now, Warsaw is covered in a white, wintery glow!

Though I really didn’t want to leave my toasty, warm apartment, I decided to break in my new winter boots and take some photos around the city, which did look pretty covered in the fresh snow. I only took my cell phone because I didn’t want our good camera to get ruined. This will give you just a little taste of what we’re experiencing.

I’m pretty positive this snowfall won’t be our last. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two nights ago, I was the perfect Turkish housewife and cooked up a storm.

I made a herbed salad topped with nar (a version of Claudia’s toros salatası), a creamy celeriac soup, zeytinyağlı pırasa (leeks in olive oil) and finally Turkish etli kereviz dolması (meat-stuffed celeriac). I told my husband he better enjoy all this now before I start my Polish lessons because I doubt I’ll be cooking much then!
Last week, I fondly recalled the etli kereviz dolması that my friend enjoyed at Çiya when I wrote that blog post. I couldn’t stop thinking about that dish! I had some leftover ground lamb in the freezer, and I can easily find celeriac at the markets here in Warsaw. With that in mind, I bought a kilo of celeriac at the BioBazar this past weekend.

The only problem is that celeriac is a pain in the butt to clean, hollow out and stuff! I found this article on how to easily clean celeriac, which helped immensely. Then, I used a melon baller to hollow out the insides of my celeriac once they were cut in half. Be sure to use lots of lemon juice with the cleaned celeriac halves to prevent browning.
I chatted with my girlfriend in NYC via Skype for nearly an hour while I cleaned the celeriac! If anyone has an easier way to do so, please let me know.

Once the celeriac was cleaned, I had about 2 cups worth of celeriac pieces, so I decided to make a quick soup. I sautéd onion and garlic, added the celeriac pieces and cooked with about 1 quart of chicken broth. Later, I pureed the soup and seasoned with salt and pepper. Perfect first course to go with the salad!

Once the celeriac were stuffed and baking, I moved onto the next dish – zeytinyağlı pırasa. For this recipe, I used my handy Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook. I often turn to this cookbook for inspiration when I’m at home.

While the etli kereviz dolması turned out delicious, I doubt I’ll be making this recipe anytime soon. I found it very tiresome scooping out the insides of the celeriac. But if you have the time someday, please do try my recipe and let me know how it turns out!

Afiyet olsun!
Turkish Etli Kereviz Dolması (Meat-Stuffed Celeriac)
1          kilo                  celeriac (Note: mine were quite small, about 8 total)
200      grams               ground lamb or beef
1          ea.                    medium onion, chopped small or grated
½         cup                  flat-leaf parsley, chopped small
1          teaspoon          dried dill
50        grams               long-grain rice (about ¼ cup)
1          Tablespoon      nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses)
To taste                       salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½      ea.                    lemon

As needed: butter and olive oil

Clean, peel and cut in half each celeriac. Using a melon baller or paring knife, hollow out the inside of each celeriac half. Immediately, place the celeriac in cold water with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the ground meat, onion, herbs, rice, nar ekşisi, salt and pepper together for the stuffing.

Fill each celeriac with the stuffing mixture. Place in a large oven-safe cooking dish. Then, top a few with dollops of butter and drizzle with a little olive oil. Fill the dish with water about one-third of the way up the celeriac.
Cover and bake in a 350 F/175 C oven for 45 minutes or until the celeriac are tender. If you have larger celeriac, then you will need to increase your cooking time too. Alternatively, you could cook the celeriac in a pot fitted with a lid on your stovetop.

Note: we enjoyed this celeriac dish even more the next day when topped with a bit of garlicky yogurt.

Friday, January 10, 2014

When we lived in Istanbul, I loved taking our visitors from the European side to the Anatolian part of the city.

Not only could our friends enjoy a vapur ride on the Bosphorus, but they also could say they had been to “Asia.” I would even time our visit so we could eat at one of my favorite and one-of-a-kind places in the city – Çiya located in the Kadıköy neighborhood.

In the last few years, Çiya has earned the recognition as one of the city’s foodie hotspots, as mentioned by IstanbulEats, DeliciousIstanbul and Parla Food. Çiya's owner/chef, Musa Dağdeviren, from Gaziantep in southern Turkey, has travelled all over Turkey as well as the Balkans and neighboring countries collecting his recipes. The result is some of the most distinctive dishes you’ll find in Istanbul such as candied vegetables, meats cooked with seasonal fruits and wild herbs and greens. Dağdeviren’s menu is always changing at his three locations located on the same pedestrian-only street in Kadıköy.
On my initial visit to Çiya with Selin of Turkish Flavours in 2011, Dağdeviren was making Turkish pide and kindly hung out with our group for a bit. Of course, I had to ask if I could get my photo taken with the chef, and he obliged.
As soon as you walk into Çiya, you’ll notice its fantastic salad bar that’s always filled with unique wild herbs and greens, hummus and other seasonal nibbles. This is where I start. Grab a plate, select your favorite dishes and then be sure to get your plate weighed by the helpful staff. You could make a meal just out of this salad bar!
The main dishes always change, depending on the season, but you’ll usually find a few soups as well as several meat-based dishes such as kuzu etli ayva dolması (lamb cooked with quince), celeriac stuffed with rice and ground beef, vişneli köfte (meatballs cooked in a tangy sour cherry sauce) or a tasty meat stew with baby okra. I find it difficult not to order one of everything especially if it’s a dish I haven’t tried before. These dishes aren't fancy, just honest, homecooked food, and the flavors are outstanding.
One of my favorite dishes when it's in season - kuzu etli ayva dolması.

Conclude your delightful meal with a refreshing şerbet, a sweet, fruit-based beverage popular during the Ottoman era.

For dessert, I always have a hard time deciding between künefe or katmer, both desserts hail from southeast Turkey. However, if you would like a unique dessert, order Çiya’s plate of candied fruits and vegetables. Who knew candied olives could be so tasty?
Dessert time at Çiya.
During my next visit to Istanbul this spring, I might have to include a stop at Çiya as well!

Çiya Sofrası and Çiya Kebab (right across the street from each other)
Güneşlibahçe Sokak 43
Kadıköy, Istanbul

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It only took us three years to do something nearly every first-time tourist does in Istanbul.

Before we moved from Istanbul last year, we made a bucket list of things we still wanted to do in the city. One of those items was riding the historic tram that trundles down the pedestrian-only Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim.
You cannot miss the historic Tünel Tram in the Taksim neighborhood in Istanbul.

I always pooh-pawed the idea of taking this tram. For one, it’s always crowded; and two, it was something ONLY tourists did. I was never a true tourist in Istanbul. I moved to this historical, cosmopolitan city in 2010 as a first-time resident, newly married, and without ever seeing it in person.

Of course, I ended up doing many touristy things over and over, especially when friends came to visit us. However, riding this tram was never one of those things. Not riding this tram while living in Istanbul perhaps is comparable to never setting foot in Times Square if you had lived in NYC like we once did.

The historic red and white Tünel Tram runs down Istiklal Caddesi (once called the Grand Rue de Pera) from Taksim Square to Tünel Square – a distance of 1.64 km (1 mile). The tram was first introduced in 1875, taken out of service in 1961 to be replaced by buses, and was revived again in 1990. Today, the trams carry an average of 6,000 passengers daily!
If you do decide to take the tram, I can’t promise you will arrive at your destination any quicker than if you just walked the 15 or 20 minutes. The ride is relatively slow as the conductor must constantly ring the bell to make the pedestrians move out of the tram’s way. However, the ride offers tourists and residents alike a quick view of life on Istiklal Cadessi, and maybe you will shave a few minutes off your commute.

For us, riding the historic Tünel Tram was just another item crossed off our Istanbul bucket list!
If you’d like read more about Istanbul during the late 1900s as the Ottoman Empire was waning, I can highly recommend a historical fiction book called, The Sultan’s Seal by Jenny White. Her book follows the main character, Kamil Pasa, a magristrate over the Pera and Galata neighborhood, as he tries to solve a murder mystery. The book goes into great detail about the old neighborhoods of Taksim, Galata and Pera. It’s a fantastic read!

“A horse-drawn tram clangs along the (Grand Rue de Pera), carrying matrons from the new northern suburbs into town for shopping…Kamil surveys the early morning bustle of Istanbul’s most modern quarter. Apprentices balance nested copper tins of hot food and trays of steaming tea, hurrying toward customers waiting in shops and hotels…,” excerpt taken from The Sultan’s Seal.

Monday, January 6, 2014

With a new year beginning, I cannot help but reflect on the previous year and our former expat life in Istanbul.

With the current political turmoil happening in Turkey, I’m constantly thinking about our good friends and what the future may hold. I worry. The Turkish lira is at an all-time low. The government kicked off the new year with hefty tax increases on alcohol, cigarettes andfuel. And you must be careful about what you say on Twitter; and, heaven forbid if you wave a shoebox in the air! Every day, I read something more ridiculous in the news.

In some ways, I am relieved we are no longer living in Istanbul. My husband’s salary would have been drastically reduced as a result of the lira weakening while the cost of going out to eat and drink would have increased. During the three years we lived there, our rent had increased by 20 percent. If we hadn’t moved to Warsaw when we did, we would have needed to find a new apartment anyway. Our life is easier and less expensive here.
Yep, I'm still in love with this crazy, congested city! 
When I returned for visits in July and September, Istanbul’s traffic seemed to only have gotten worse. Traffic jams started at 3 p.m. and would last until 8 or 9 p.m. Just a week ago, it took my friends nearly four hours to get from the Ataturk Airport to Bostancı on the Asian side. I do NOT miss the traffic! Now, it only takes me about 30 minutes to get everywhere I want in Warsaw.

But I do miss my friends, most of all! We made some amazing friends with Americans, Canadians, a French couple and with several Turks. To me, the good friends we made is what made Istanbul special.
Our going-away party in March 2013 in Istanbul.
Our friends, Ken and Earl, former owners of Denizen Coffee, hosted our goodbye party. I miss these guys!
Christmas 2012 in Istanbul with my girlfriends.
Together, we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays and more together. We went on trips to Konya, N.Cyprus, Safranbolu and CundaAdası together. I’m still trying to cultivate those same kind of friendships in our new city. It takes time.
Let's just say our last night in Istanbul as residents included lots of Turkish raki, wine and mezes at a local meyhane in Taksim.
I miss seeing the Bosphorus. There’s something magical about drinking a çay along the banks of the Bosphorus and watching the world pass you by. Taking a vapur ride and seeing the city’s minaret-studded skyline never gets old.
On the vapur ride to Kadıköy, you'll pass by the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya.
Breakfast by the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
I miss my weekly visits to the pazar. Turkey’s fresh produce and the abundance of it is like none other where I’ve lived before. Right now, it’s mandalina and nar season in Turkey. Luckily, I have been able to seasonally find fresh Turkish figs and pomegranates at my local grocery stores.
Look for these fresh fruit juice stands throughout Istanbul!
I still miss the pulsating vibrancy and the tantalizing tastes of Eminönü. I think I could have visited this bustling neighborhood every day and always found something new. I cannot wait to visit again during March!
Outside of the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Bazaar) in Istanbul. 
I must stock up on Turkish pul biber during my next visit!
I even miss hearing the call to prayer from the mosques throughout the city. Now, I hear church bells from my balcony in Warsaw.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am learning to love many things about my new country here in Poland, and I’m finally starting to take Polish lessons this month. (Wish me luck!) I always try to look for the silver lining in any situation. Maybe in time, I’ll be able to wax nostalgic about it as well.

Until then and even despite of the current political situation, Istanbul will always hold a special place in my heart.
Sailing away on the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
(Dear readers, I'll be posting some more blog posts about Istanbul during the next few weeks!)