Saturday, December 30, 2017

Greetings from Sofia, Bulgaria! We are on the last leg of our holiday trip in Eastern Europe, and I thought I would share a few photos.

We decided to close out the year with a 10-day trip to three capitals – Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia. I think the trip has been a HUGE (bigly/awesome) success, and we really enjoyed Bucharest more than we thought we would.

Since we moved abroad in 2010, we’ve learned it is better to visit our friends and family members in the U.S. at any other time of the year than Christmas. In December, the flights are more expensive, the airports are chaotic, the roads are terrible, and we often have dealt with a ton of snow – like what the U.S. East Coast is getting the brunt of now. To make our expat lives easier, we visit the U.S. either in the spring or the fall. Next year, we might even make two trips as some family members are getting older and we want to spend some precious time with them.

Anyway, our first stop was in Budapest. We visited this lovely city twice in 2014, but haven’t been back until now. Funny enough, friends we met in Istanbul were spending Christmas there, so we met up to celebrate an expat Christmas together. We also were able to see some of hubby’s former Warsaw colleagues.
After three sunny days in Budapest, we flew to Bucharest with a 1-hour layover in Warsaw. We had just enough time to enjoy a plate of pierogies at the airport and buy some Polish kabanos sausages and Wedel chocolates.

Exploring Bucharest over two days meant discovering buildings that reminded us of the Barouque architecture of Paris, a few hints of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture and plenty of ugly, concrete Communist blocks too. Bucharest is definitely a city of contrasts. I’ll have to share more photos soon after edits. Also, Bucharest had a lovely and much-bigger-than-expected Christmas market!
From Bucharest, we decided to take a 10-hour train across the border to visit Sofia, Bulgaria. Buying the train ticket and the experience onboard was an adventure in itself, and a story I’ll need to tell in more detail later. At least we had a bag filled with wine and snacks for the journey.
One of the older Romanian trains. Luckily, this one was not our train. ;)
Sofia seems to have more Ottoman-era touches and plenty of Orthodox churches. Here a church, there a church, everywhere a church. Also, the city has a prettier feel than Bucharest…I’m guessing it wasn’t bombed as heavily as Bucharest was during WWII.
Inside Sveta Nedelya, an ornate Orthodox Church in Sofia.
I paid 5lev so I could take photos inside.
I’ll close for now as hubby is getting inpatient with me dealing with social media while we are on vacation. Ha ha!

Wherever you are, I wish you a wonderful New Year filled with adventure!

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The days between late September and early November are the best times to catch autumn in its full autumnal glory here in London.

By late November, as I’m writing now, the city is grey, cold and nearly lifeless. The trees are bare, but at least the parks have plenty of remaining fall leaves for me to fluff up with my boots.
Between working full-time and often travelling, I feel like I missed most of autumn in London this year, but I managed to catch a few snaps on those days I did have time to explore my “hometown.”

Borough Market
Going to one of the local markets here such as the famous Borough Market means you’ll find plenty of British apples, pumpkins and squash during the autumn months. My husband’s colleagues requested an American apple pie so I obliged and made one on my day off. No rest for this pastry chef.
Bizarre Red Sun in London
Around 3 p.m. on October 16th, the skies clouded over and turned a bizarre, hazy orange color. I thought a zombie apocalypse might really be happening, but the change in atmosphere was the result of Hurricane Ophelia stirring up particles and possibly Sahara Dessert dust. I got lucky with these photos because that day was my day off and I was out with my good Canon camera.

Richmond Park
In late October, I finally got my husband to Richmond Park with me. We’ve never been together because I’m normally working on the weekends and he works weekdays. We got lucky with the weather so we decided to rent bikes for half a day and packed a small picnic in our backpack. We brought along one of my favorite Turkish wines from the Bozcaada island. 

I love Richmond Park, which served as hunting grounds to England’s former kings and is London’s largest royal park at 2,500 acres. There are plenty of red and fallow deer that roam here. Great for photo opps!

St. James Park
I rarely venture through this part of London because the hordes of tourists drive me crazy. However, our uncle was visiting so we took him by to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace and wandered through the pretty St. James Park.

Battersea Park
As city dwellers, Battersea Park has become our miniature version of NYC’s Central Park – the perfect place to relax or exercise in. The park has some lovely, old maple trees that turn such pretty autumnal colors.

Where did you celebrate autumn this year?

My Traveling Joys

Monday, November 27, 2017

This year, I was fortunate enough to celebrate two Thanksgivings – one in Düsseldorf, Germany, and one at our flat in London.

This marked our third year travelling to the ‘Dorf to celebrate an expat Thanksgiving there with a fellow American friend and our German friends. We had to skip a year in 2015 when we moved to Australia, but we managed to celebrate Thanksgivings together in 2014, 2016 and 2017. I’m sure 2018 will be on the calendar again too.

Our friends rubbed down the turkey with a BBQ-like spice rub and then smoked it for several hours outside. The turkey was delicious, and surprisingly, really moist.

The dinner table included the classic American dishes: cornbread stuffing/dressing, my cheesy green bean casserole, cranberry compote, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potato casserole, and of course, pies. Once again, I travelled with a pie in my suitcase…and landed safely in Germany with it. I’m happy no one from border patrol tried to steal my pie!
When you live abroad, friends become like your own family members.

I also made a pumpkin pie once we arrived in Germany.
A lovely autumnal view and a rainbow in Germany for our expat Thanksgiving weekend.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year, if you celebrated! I’m very thankful that our expat life continues to allow us to travel and meet up with our friends all over the world.

If you like to give my boozy pecan pie recipe a go, you’ll find it below.


Joy’s Pecan Pie
Use my standard Tart Dough for the pie shell here.

4 ea.  large eggs at room temperature, whisked
185 g. brown sugar
60 ml. light corn syrup or Golden Syrup
60 ml. molasses
1/2 tsp.  salt
1/2 tsp.  vanilla extract
45 g. butter, melted
30 ml. whiskey or bourbon, ** (optional)
285 g. walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, whisk the ingredients together in the order they are listed. Cover the bottom of the tart shells with pecans. Add the filling to right below the rim of the tart. 

Bake at 350 F/175 C until lightly browned and the filling is set, about 12 minutes total for small tarts, or 30-25 minutes for the large tart. Remove tarts from molds while still warm.

We even got to see the Christmas market being set up in the Old Town of Dusseldorf.
Of course, we enjoyed some gluhwein as well
My first, but not my last, gluhwein of the 2017 Christmas season.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Of course, when one visits Turkey, you can plan to eat well.

I thought I would share some of the special dishes and places I visited during my trip to Bodrum, a beautiful resort area located on the southwest peninsula along the Aegean Sea.

On the first night in Bodrum after the 3rd Annual Karaova Grape Harvest Festival had kicked off with traditional Aegean dances, we ate dinner at a lovely restored, 160-year-old stone house called Avlu Bistro & Bar. The restaurant has two levels inside and plenty of outdoor tables so you can enjoy the pleasant summer weather.

Here, we started off with several mezzes including smoked salmon bruschetta, veal carpaccio, Turkish olives, cheese, etc. Every dish was delicious, but to me, the real highlight was the main course – the çökertme kebabı. This traditional Bodrum dish features tender steak (bonfile) served atop fried shoestring potatoes in a yogurt and tomato sauce. OMG! As a meat lover, I was in heaven!
Somehow during my previous trips to Bodrum, I had missed out on having çökertme kebabı. Never again! If you love steak, then you must try this amazing dish when you visit the Bodrum area.

For dessert, we had a warm chocolate soufflé cake and a panna cotta with berries. After dinner, we walked along Bodrum’s famous Barlar Sokak and headed back to our hotel to relax.
Hotel Marma Beach
In the mornings, I enjoyed a full Turkish breakfast buffet at Hotel Marma Beach, a small, boutique hotel located on Ortakent Beach. I had a second-floor bedroom here with a small terrace where I enjoyed sitting out in the late afternoons with a glass of Turkish wine. A traditional Turkish breakfast often features several kinds of cheeses, breads, olives, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, boiled eggs and teas. Simple and delicious!
Köy Kahvaltısı 
Of course, I can’t forget the amazing köy kahvaltısı (village breakfast) that I enjoyed with my new Turkish friends in the countyside at Etrim Doğa Restaurant & Köy Kahvaltısı. To read more about that experience, please read this post: Enjoying a Turkish Village Breakfast Near Bodrum.
Kavurmacı Celal Usta
For lunch, we ate at a small family restaurant in Mumcular called Kavurmacı Celal Usta. Often, small restaurants in Turkey will specialize in cooking and serving just one or two dishes. In this case, we were interested in eating saç kavurma. Kavurma usually refers to beef or lamb simply seasoned and cooked in its own juices and fat.

Another traditional way to prepare kavurma is to cook it on a metal pan called a saç. The saç is placed over an open fire and the diced lamb or beef is stirred around and cooked with a large metal spatula until the meat releases its juices and fat. Our dish was served with lettuce, freshly diced tomatoes and bread. Of course, the drink of choice here is ayran – a salty, but refreshing Turkish yogurt drink. Ayran also goes well a really spicy meal. Trust me.
Göltürkbükü Mahallesi
Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, I often didn’t know where I was going on this trip since I had very limited wifi and my brain was constantly working away at my lost Turkish language skills. After leaving Mumcular, I know we drove south toward the Göltürkbükü Mahallesi. I have since learned that we stopped for afternoon tea at Hasan Restoran, a family-owned restaurant/motel located on the beach. We dined on chilled, locally-harvested grapes and figs while enjoying the seaviews in the afternoon sunshine. But the highlight here was eating Saraylı Tatlısı – another Bodrum specialty which is thin sheets of yufka (phyllo dough) baked in a sugary syrup and topped with chopped pistachios.

If you like Turkish baklava, then you will love Saraylı Tatlısı as well.
Whenever you travel to Turkey, I promise that you will eat well – be it a large city like Bodrum or Istanbul or the tiniest of Turkish villages.

Again, special thanks to Karaova-Der, Slow Food Bodrum and the Bodrum municipality for making this wonderful Turkish trip happen!

My Traveling Joys

Monday, October 30, 2017

I can’t believe that it’s already been more than a month since I was in Bodrum, Turkey, for the 3rd Annual Karaova Grape Harvest Festival.

This fantastic foodie event, held in September in the Mumcular Park, highlighted not only the local crops of the surrounding rich agricultural lands, but also the local Turkish traditions and customs. The three-day festival provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about these traditional ways and for me to spend some time basking in Turkish hospitality and supporting a wonderful cause. The event was organized by Karaova-Der, a local association under the leadership of Ali Öztürk, along with Slow Food Bodrum and the Bodrum municipality.

This week, I learned from fellow blogger Annie of Back to Bodrum that the event was considered a success, with a 30 percent increase in participants and visitors. That’s wonderful news!
Since I come from a farm-based background and professionally work as a pastry chef, I am a firm believer in using local and seasonal products like the ones promoted at the festival. I was honored to be a guest chef at the event, helping judge the food contest and doing a cooking demo of my recipe for a Fig Tart with a Turkish Twist. Let me know if you give my recipe a go!
And now some highlights from the 3rd Annual Karaova Grape Harvest Festival:

The festival kicked off on the first night with announcements by local officials and traditional Turkish dances held in the main Bodrum square or meydan. I loved the local dresses which are typical of the Aegean region in Turkey!
On Saturday, I met up with a friendly group of Turkish bloggers and writers to spend a day at the festival. Although my Turkish has become a bit rusty these last few years, I still am able to communicate in my bir az Türkçe, and my yeni arkadaşlar were quite welcoming. 
At the festival, I met several local farmers and women who make a living by selling their produce and spices or by making dolls, jams, compotes, sauces, scarves, placemats and tablecloths, wooden serving spoons and more. I had a wonderful time wandering around the festival, admiring and sampling various goodies by the numerous stallholders.
I bought this beautiful blue scarf from this local lady who said the scarf matched by blue eyes. What a sweetie!
I couldn’t resist taking a photo with this local farmer!
He was so jovial! I bought some spices and dried herbs from him.
One of the bloggers, Suleyman Dilsiz of Istanbul did a presentation about cooking fish. He has published two cookbooks: “Kılçıksız Balık” (about fish) and “Kahvaltıya Dair Her Şey” (about breakfast). 

In the evening, I helped judge the food contest which included traditional Turkish recipes made by local cooks in three categories: Zeytinyağlılar (olive oil dishes), Tatlılar (desserts) and Börekler (savory pastries made from thin phyllo dough). The idea of the food contest was to help promote traditional recipes and to hopefully publish them all in a small booklet. I had no idea that judging a food contest would be somewhat difficult and filling at the end. Adding up all the proper points for each category took time. But I was very honored to participate along with Asli Mutlu of Cooking Classes Bodrum, Oya Emerk of Oya’s Cuisine in Istanbul, and two local residents.
After we had counted the results, the winners posed for photos with Asli Mutlu, Oya Emerk and myself. What a wonderful event!
You can read more about the food contest and its winners written by Turkish blogger Arzu of

Baking in Bodrum at the Karaova Festival
On Sunday, I returned to festival because it was showtime! Even though I’ve given dozens and dozens of cooking classes over the years, I was still a bit nervous because I was talking in front of a mainly Turkish-speaking crowd. No need to fear! One of the volunteers from Slow Food Bodrum helped translate as I spoke in English. I felt more relaxed as I talked about one of my favorite tart recipes and looked out and saw several familiar and smiling faces in the crowd.
Asli  of Cooking Classes Bodrum introduced me at the event.

I personally met Ali Öztürk of Karaova-Der and humbly received a lovely award from him.
At the end of my presentation, I gave out samples of my delicious fig and grape tart and spoke with some of the audience members. Again, it was an honor to be at the Karaova Festival and talk about baking.

I’m so thankful to have met all these wonderful Turkish bloggers and for providing me with some of these photos.

I’m already hoping that I can make another trip to Turkey in 2018! And don’t miss next year’s Karaova Festival in Bodrum!

This event would not have been possible without the support of these friends and sponsors, so special thanks goes to:
·       *Asli Mutlu of Cooking Classes Bodrum 

·       *Oya Emerk of Oya’s Cuisine 

·       *Slow Food Bodrum 

·      * Akustik Turizm for providing transportation.

·       *Hotel Marma Beach for providing lodging.

To learn more about Turkish food, please visit some of these Turkish bloggers’ websites:
·       * Sibel Yalcin 

·       * Arzu Goncü Hangül of 

·       * Birgül Erdogan 

·       * Hacer Sener 

·       * Leyla Kılıç 

·       * Emel Akan 

·       * Nur Hayat 

·       * Serkan Karagoz 

My Traveling Joys