Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I’ve already been warned about the Polish version of Fat Tuesday! Locally known as Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), this day allows you to stuff your face with as many Polish doughnuts as you can before the fasting season of Lent begins.

Instead of parading and partying like other Catholic-observant countries do for Mardis Gras or Fat Tuesday, the Poles will queue up in long, long lines to purchase pastries from the local cukiernia (bakery). The most popular Polish pastry, particularly on Fat Thursday, are pączki – large, deep-fried doughnuts. These sugary doughnuts are typically filled with rose petal jam (or other marmalades), glazed with sugar, and then sometimes topped with candied orange peel. The pączki are very similar to our American jelly-filled doughnuts in the U.S.
You'll find a variety of the Polish doughnuts around the city!

Fat Thursday is tomorrow (February 27th), but I’ve already seen advertisements for pączki since last week here in Warsaw! I guess I’d be stocking up on sweets too if I knew I couldn’t eat them either for 40 days during Lent!
My Polish friends have warned me that many offices even have pączki eating contests – to see who can eat the most! My husband isn’t sure what to expect at his office.

According to my daily email from Warsaw Foodie, 75 percent of Poles will eat at least 3 doughnuts and 33 percent will eat as many as 5 pieces tomorrow! Now, that’s a lot of doughnuts!

One of the most popular and traditional places where Poles purchase these donuts are A. Blikle cafes, located throughout Warsaw. This year, Blikle will offer two new modern-day fillings – orange-ginger or cherry-chili. I’m honestly surprised about the chili flavor because rarely do I find anything spicy here unless I go out to a Thai restaurant.

Another Fat Thursday favorite in Poland are faworki. Nicknamed “Angel’s Wings, these thin, crispy ribbons of pastry dough are fried, and then sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar. Luckily, I’ll be learning how to make faworki at a baking class at CookUp tonight!
Crispy piles of sweet Polish faworki at A. Blikle Cafe in Warsaw.
Since this will be our first Lent and Easter season in Poland, I’m curious to see what will happen on Fat Thursday. I plan to take my camera around to some of the popular cukiernia I know in Centrum and see what the fuss is all about!

Don’t miss out on this Polish holiday! Follow along tomorrow’s pączki madness via my Instagram feed or Facebook Page.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Last year around this time, we were crossing items off our bucket to-do list for Istanbul.

Included on my list was a Sunday visit to the Kastamonu Market (Pazar) held in the Kasımpaşa neighborhood close to the Golden Horn. This pazar is a foodie’s paradise – filled with all kinds of special produce and homemade goodies from the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

It took us nearly 3 years to visit this pazar!

On the weekends, we often found ourselves traveling or not willing to get our butts out of bed to find this market. You must arrive on the earlier side, say by 9 or 10 a.m., if you want to get the best goods.

And trust me, when I say it’s worthwhile to get your butt out of bed and find this special pazar!
The tomatoes seem so fresh and juicy that I could eat them like an apple. That half kilo of butter was probably just churned a few days ago.

You’ll find mounds of köy ekmeği and other village breads stuffed with spinach, other wild greens and cheese. Oh my!
Darling baskets of brown village eggs, which will be about as free-range as you can ever get!
And during the spring, you’ll find baskets and tables filled with edible, wild Turkish herbs and greens. I don’t even know what most of these greens are, but I wish I did! I did purchase a half of kilo of the alien-looking Turkish hodan (borage root), and sautéd it with garlic, onion and pul biber. From what I understand, most of these wild greens are used for filling in yummy börek.
Does anyone know what this Turkish green is?
It almost looks like tiny spring bulbs.
I believe this is Turkish hodan or borage root in English.
Just perusing my photos again makes me want to be at the Kastamonu Pazarı right now!

After you’ve had a feast for your eyes, buy some Turkish goodies such as cheese, olives, breads and dried fruits. Head across the street from the market to Sururi Park and have an impromptu picnic on the rocks by the waterfall. That’s exactly what we did!

Afiyet olsun!
How to get here:
The Kastamonu Pazarı is set up along Toprak Tabya Sokak (off of Bahriye Cad.) in Kasımpaşa. The closest bus stop is at Iplikçi Durağı, and you can try mapping out your journey here on IETT. Or simply grab a taxi from either Taksim or Karaköy. The market is only open on Sundays from 6 a.m.-4 p.m.

If you enjoyed my post, you might like these from 2 of my blogging friends in Istanbul:
Istanbul’s Very Own Black Sea Market! by Claudia of A Seasonal Cook in Turkey 

Inebolu Pazarı: Shop in Istanbul Like a Local by Olga of Delicious Istanbul
Homemade Turkish jams, pekmez and pickles at the Kastamonu Pazarı in Istanbul.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I have no problem satisfying my sweet tooth here in Warsaw.

In fact, Poles seem to love their desserts even more than the Turks do! You’ll find a multitude of bakeries, chocolate and dessert shops as well as ice cream parlours in the city. So for this Valentine’s Day, I have plenty of options to choose from.

Here are my top 7 Sweet Spots to help you celebrate Valentine’s Day weekend in Warsaw:

The King of Chocolate
1. If you’re craving chocolate and rich traditions, then you must pay homage to Pijalnie Czekolady Wedel, ul. Szpitalna 8. Wedel is Poland's longest established chocolate manufacturer, since1851, and one of the best known brands here. Though there are several locations in Warsaw, my favorite is the original one located in what was once the factory and café of the Wedel business in Centrum.
As tradition warrants, you must try one of the infamous hot chocolates and then treat yourself to a decadent piece of chocolate cake, ice cream sundae  or delicious chocolate truffles. I bought a small box of truffles for us to enjoy during our romantic get-away this weekend. I’ll give the hot chocolate another chance, but so far I prefer my own homemade hot chocolate.

Classic Desserts
2. Stepping into A. Blikle, ul. Nowy Świat 33, is like being transported to an old-school café in Vienna. This classic café, dating back to 1869, specializes in traditional European cakes with thick layers of buttercream and perfect sponge cakes. I love the cakes here, especially the walnut or chocolate tortes! My only issue is that service is often slow, but I keep returning because the cakes are that good!
3. If you’re craving American cupcakes like I do now and then, then La Vanille, ul. Krucza 16/22, is your best bet. Cupcakes aren’t nearly as popular in Poland as they are elsewhere abroad. However, La Vanille does a decent job of replicating American tastes with Red Velvet, chocolate peanut butter and tiramisu flavors. Next visit, I’ll remember to stop by earlier as the chocolate cupcakes seem to sell out quickly.
Coffeeshop Culture
4. Przegryź, Mokotowska 52, is a funky café located in a boutique-filled neighborhood. I’ve stopped here a few times to sample the sweet desserts made by pastry chef, Dominika Krzemińska, who also teaches baking classes at CookUp Studio like I do. In fact, I’m taking one of her baking classes in two weeks so I can learn how to make some traditional Polish pastries like faworki. The menu features an extensive list of Polish and European dishes as well as a unique doggie menu if you have your four-legged friend with you. Stop by to sample one of Krzemińska’s delicious tarts!
5. Though I find the décor of Słodki Słony, ul. Mokotowska 45, a bit tacky, this Magda Gessler venture is always busy. Inside this English-looking cottage house, you’ll find a long pastry display case filled to brim with meringues, cakes, tarts and other pastries. It’s worth a visit if you grab a sweet treat to take home. I’ve only eaten lunch here, but several of my expat friends seem to love Słodki Słony.

More Chocolate
6. Another place that reminds me of the cafés in Vienna is Café Bristol, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 42/44 (Hotel Bristol Warsaw). The culinary creations of the hotel’s Patisserie Chef, Grzegorz Walicki feature the legendary, chocolaty Bristol Cake, layered mille-feuille, Black Forest cake and many other desserts with intricate garnishes of tuiles and chocolate décor. I’ve stopped by the Bristol simply to grab two slices to take home so hubby and I can enjoy together.
The signature Bristol Cake is my favorite here so far!
By the way, the Bristol’s new lunch menu includes a hot entrée with soup and mineral water for 56 PLN.

Modern Twists
7. Located in most of the malls in Warsaw, which I find odd as there’s no seating, Lukullus is a high-end pastry shop that uses only “natural ingredients.” Lukullus, founded in 1946 in Warsaw's Praga district by Jan Dynowski, a former master confectioner at Wedel, seems to feature the city’s most modern flavors such as limoncello, rhubarb, passion fruit and Madagascar vanilla.  
According to the company’s website, the current pastry chef, a third generation family member, attended the prestigious Parisian culinary school of Le Cordon Bleu. This would explain why the desserts look more elegant and modern than other places. Surprisingly, you’ll only find this name in Poland’s capital.

Wishing you a sweet Valentine’s Day wherever you may be!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I love the combination of sweet and salty together when I’m baking in my kitchen!

This is the perfect recipe for Valentine’s Day as it not only combines sweet and salty together, but also dark chocolate! The end result is a slightly sweet and buttery cookie with morsels of dark chocolate and sea salt mixed together. My husband’s coworkers approved too!

Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did! I’ve been swamped a bit lately because I’ve been taking Polish lessons every day. Today is my final exam! So I might need someone to make ME some cookies for Valentine’s Day!

Sweet & Salty Chocolate Shortbread Hearts with Red Sea Salt. 
Chocolate Shortbread Hearts with Sea Salt 
A classic shortbread is buttery and crunchy. I like to add chocolate and sea salt to mine, so you end up with a sweet-salty combination in these cookies. Traditional shortbread cookies were made from 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour by weight.

Shortbread gets its name from its crumbly texture (from an old meaning of the English word short), which is a result of the recipe’s high fat content provided by the butter.

Yields: 36 mini heart-shaped cut-out cookies

160      grams               480 typ Szymanowska Polish flour
55        g.                     granulated (Drobny) sugar
110      g.                     butter (not too cold, but not too soft either), cut into small pieces
Pinch                           salt
30        g.                     dark chocolate, chopped very small or shaved with a vegetable peeler
As needed:                  extra flour for rolling out the cookies

Garnish: Fleur de sel or rozowa z Himalajow sol (sea salt)

Tools needed:
Silpat pastry mat
Rolling pin
Heart-shaped cookie cutters

Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C.

Using a stand mixer or hand blender, place the flour, sugar, salt and butter into the mixing bowl. Using the paddle attachment on low-medium speed, mix together the ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and will stick together if squeezed into a ball.

Then, add the chocolate into the mixture. Blend until combined. It will still look like a coarse meal (like when you make pie dough).

Dump the mixture onto a work surface such as a silpat pastry mat. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 portions. Using your hands, work the dough together as if you are kneading it, about 6 to 8 times. Press down on the mixture and push it away from you, and then bring the dough together again. Repeat this process until the dough sticks together.

Divide the dough in half.

Then, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a very lightly floured surface…Do NOT use too much flour as this will make the dough tough.

Cut out the dough with heart-shaped cookie cutters.

Place the hearts on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sea salt, pressing the granules slightly into the dough.

Bake the cookies about 8-10 minutes, or until very light brown on the edges.

Continue rolling, cutting and baking the cookies until all the dough is used up.
Someday you might find yourself with a collection of sea salts like me!
Back row: sea salt with algae from Brittany, France; Hawaiian red sea salt, rock salt from Krakow.Front row: Himalayan pink sea salt, French fleur de sel and larger granules of Himalayan pink sea salt.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Surrounded by Turkish grape vines, restored, whitewashed houses and Mediterranean-influenced food, these are just some of the reasons we returned to Bozcaada two years in a row.

To me, Bozcaada, an island off the western coast of Turkey, is one of those rare, magical places where you can relax without hordes of tourists. There are hidden beaches and swimming holes to explore. A short walk down an uneven cobblestone path may lead to a charming café.

Oh, and don’t forget about the wine! This 15-square-mile island is planted with field after field of grapevines – a beautiful site to see in the summer and in the fall. Last year, the New York Times referred to Bozcaada as “one of Turkey’s most promising wine destinations.” 
Autumnal-colored, empty grapevines on the island of Bozcaada, Turkey.
In July 2011, four of us traveled to Bozcaada for the first time because we had fallen in love with drinking Corvus wine here in Istanbul. (Corvus is considered the most prestigious producer on the island.) Our plan was to drink wine and sunbathe on the beach. That was it.

Last October, hubby and I returned to Bozcaada because we just couldn’t resist. The island was more subdued at that time of the year, but was perfect in our quest for a relaxing weekend. With temps between 10-15 C, we didn’t swim in the icy Aegean Sea this time.

Like Turkey, this small island has captured my heart.

Here are my Top 10 Things to Do on Bozcaada:
1. Eat ahtapot! Who knew this steak-lovin’ girl would fall in love with ahtapot (octopus) once she moved to Turkey? I like this tasty Mediterranean morsel best grilled with lots of olive oil and spices. Be sure to save your bread for some dunking. Delicious ahtapot can be had at Şişman, Lodos and Mistik restaurants.
2. Go wine tasting! Bozcaada is known for its Turkish wines, so you can sample the likes of Talay, Corvus and Çamlıbağ in the city center. There’s also a new, hip restaurant called Bakkal that offers a large wine list, locally-sourced dishes and imported Italian pork salami on the menu.
3. Rent a bike. This was my husband’s brilliant idea, just like when we traveled to Bali. I like hiking, but I am no cyclist. However, renting a bike for just 15tl is a good way to see the island (if you don’t have a car), but be prepared for hills. Lots of hills! I didn’t remember Bozcaada being so hilly, and my legs were on fire the next morning.
4. Explore the beaches. The island’s beaches are a bit more fun when the weather is warm and sunny. We pedaled out to Ayazma Plajı, but it was deserted at the end of October. During the summer, the beaches, such as Çayır Plajı and Tuzburnu Plajı, are also good places to rent a chair and take a dip in the crystalline water. We even found several practically-deserted swimming holes when we drove around the island in 2011.
Grab a beach chair on the island of Bozcaada.
Or find a swimming hole like this one.
5. Make friends with the locals at the bar. Our hotel owners recommended the Oda Bar & Café as a fun place for 30+-somethings to hang out near the harbor. On our first night, we had so much that my husband got invited to a margarita competition the second night by owner Yeşim. My husband (just barely) won the competition and proceeded to make his famous nar-garitas for other customers.
Hubby made his famous nar-garitas for Turkish customers at the bar.
6. Stroll the cobblestone streets. The island’s town center is divided into Greek and Turkish sections, referring to the groups who originally built the districts. You’ll see a mosque and Ottoman architecture on one side and an old church with a tall clock tower and white-washed houses like you find in Greece on the other side.
7. Climb on top the Bozcaada Castle. In 1455, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror rebuilt the castle on ruins that had been used by the Genovese and Venetians. In the following years, the castle, considered the best preserved castle in Turkey, was restored several times due to wars.
A nice view of the Aegean Sea from on top the castle.
A nighttime view of Bozcaada Castle.
8. Shop at the local artisan’s market. Near the harbor, you will find locals selling spices, jewelry, thyme-scented honey and unique jams made from rose petals and tomatoes. Try the tomato jam while you have your Turkish breakfast on the island.
9. Drink wine by the harbor. BYOB. Head down to the opposite side of the harbor from the castle with a bottle of wine in tow. Sit on the rocks and swirl your newly purchased bottle of Turkish wine.

 10. Watch the sunset. A popular activity to do is pack a bag full of wine and snacks and head out to the Polente Feneri (Lighthouse) on the western side of the island. You’ll notice the giant electricity windmills as you approach. Grab a spot by the rocky ledge, spread out your towel and watch one of the best sunsets you’ve ever seen in Turkey.
11. Fly via a seaplane. I couldn’t resist throwing in an extra reason to visit Bozcaada. As mentioned on recent posts, my husband and I flew the new Seabird Airlines from Istanbul for a long weekend in October. At 80 minutes, the seaplane is the fastest way to get here or you can take a bus/your own car and make the trip in 6+ hours. 

Update August 2015: The Seabird Airlines has stopped flying to Bozcaada, according to the Turkish news.
Once you get to Bozcaada, all you may want to do is eat some divine local food, swirl some Turkish wine and relax on the beach or in a white-washed chair.
The harbor area on Bozcaada, Turkey.
How to get there:
By car: take the fast ferry from Istanbul to Bandırma, and then drive 210 km to the port of Geyikli. From there, take a 35-minute car ferry to Bozcaada. Total time is about 6 hours. If you don’t mind driving longer, you can also drive west from Istanbul through Tekirdağ, and then take a ferry boat from Gelibolu or Eceabat, crossing the Dardanelles Strait. You’ll need to drive a bit more before you reach Geyikli.

By bus: Truva Turizm runs frequent buses from Istanbul to Geyikli. Then, hop on the ferry boat. 7 hours.

Where to stay:
Aika, a new boutique hotel in the city center, is ideal for couples or friends traveling together.

Çapraz Resort Hotel, located 3 km. from the city center, is more family-friendly and has its own pool and private beach area.

Previous posts:
An aerial view of Bozcaada's town center as we flew over in the Seabird plane.
Bozcaada grape vines during the summer months.
For about 28 years, Berlin was a divided city with a 12-foot concrete wall establishing its boundaries.

Following World War II, Germany was divided, as was the capital of Berlin. The United States, Great Britain and France, who had similar government beliefs, occupied West Germany and West Berlin. East Germany and East Berlin were occupied by the Soviet Union. In those early years, thousands of people began migrating from the East to the West due to the government's restrictions and economic hardships. To prevent losing more of its population, East Germany established the Berlin Wall in August 1961.
The original cinder block wall with barbed wire morphed over the years into a concrete block, 12-foot-tall wall with a rounded top starting in 1975. Armed guards were stationed by the wall to prevent escape to the West. However, an estimated 10,000 people made escape attempts, with only half of those attempts successful, and 246 people died because of the Berlin Wall.

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall finally fell. (Read a personal account of the wall falling here.) I was 13, and only vaguely remember catching glimpses of this moment on television.

24 years later, I saw the remains of the Berlin Wall in person. Staring at these decaying concrete sections was a sobering moment. I realized how often I’ve taken my American freedom for granted.
A 200-meter-long strip of the border wall (outer wall), severely damaged by souvenir-seekers, is still standing at its original location on the southern side of Niederkirchnerstraße in Berlin.
A “prettier” section of the wall is known as the East Side Gallery – a 1.3 km-long painted stretch of the former Berlin Wall along the Mühlenstrasse in former East Berlin. It is the largest open-air gallery in the world with over 100 original mural paintings. International artists transformed these grey, ugly walls into pieces of art that recognized the liberation and peace following the wall’s fall.

I highly recommend a stroll by the East Side Gallery for any first-time visitor to Berlin.
One of the best known paintings, “The Mortal Kiss” by Dimitrji Vrubel, of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev’s mouth-to-mouth embrace.
In November on the West side of the wall, there was a special photo exhibit, called WALLONWALL, about walls that separate people worldwide.
This photo shows West Bank, Israel.
The East Side Gallery
Mühlenstraße (near Oberbaumbrücke)
10243  Berlin 

Corner of NiederkirchnerStrasse/Wilhelmstrasse
A 10-minute walk from Checkpoint Charlie or Potsdamer Platz