28 December 2015

Graduation Fear and Spiced Orange Shrub

I have been in Turkey for almost three years now. I've studied Turkish on and off since shortly after I arrived. I did three levels at one school then stopped for over a year I think. Wow now that I am thinking about it that was a long time. Then I took two more classes at a different school and quit because I thought I was leaving. Then when I wasn't leaving I had to wait for there to be enough students to make a class for the level I was in. Since about February though I've been steadily taking courses and last week I, along with my class friends, graduated. 

So I guess that means I speak Turkish, right? I graduated. I've finished. There are no more courses. Ergo I speak Turkish. I am so not ready to graduate!!

Aslan & me-ready for our close up!

Deli Kedi-how I feel about graduation
Ugh, no! Not ready!

Like many establishments in Istanbul, street cats are pretty free to make themselves at home at Turkuaz (which I highly recommend if you're interested in learning Turkish!) and there are many familiar faces among them. There's the cat that's always dirty and slightly sick but who just lays about sleeping. There's the deli (crazy) cat who constantly meows, zips around, and demands attention. And there's Aslan (lion) who I named when she first started hanging out with us this summer. Her paws were just so much bigger than she was and I thought she looked like a lion cub. She crawls around all of us during class wanting pets and cuddles and disturbs our note taking by trying to play with our pens when we're writing. She has a purr that's about three times her size.

No scurvy happening here!

My clever segue into alcohol is that a) my Turkish is always a little better after a few drinks and b) the thought that I now have to function in Turkish (since I no longer have the excuse that I'm just learning!) really makes me want to drink. Frankly so does the Turkish language. It's fracking hard! Like really, really hard. I know hard languages. I took five years of Russian,  three years of Mandarin, one in Taiwan, and a year and a half of Arabic. Turkish falls somewhere in the middle of all of those for degree of difficulty. The words just don't end, especially the verbs. You can pile suffixes onto words - INCLUDING THE VERBS - pretty much forever. I'm a little horrified even talking about it.

Cheap Turkish wine, vinegar...same thing really
Shrub, which is basically fancy drinking vinegar and is often made out of overripe fruit can be drunk on it's own or mixed with liquor and/or soda. E got really into making shrub over the summer. I think she made one peach and one strawberry. She likes things rather less sweet than do I so hers...needed to be cut pretty significantly. The first one I tried was sooo vinegary that my face did that thing where it basically caved in on itself. You know what I'm talking about...like when you taste something super sour and your mouth tries to retreat into your face, you wrinkle your nose, and squeeze your eyes shut like if you can't see it you can also no longer taste it.

Most people view shrub as a summer thing but I found a great recipe for spiced orange shrub. Call me crazy but the combined scents of oranges, cinnamon, and clove have always smelled like Christmas! What better flavor for making Christmas and New Year cocktails?! It's a bit sticky in the making and I've had to sponge off my counters so many times they've probably never been this clean...

In the end, absolutely worth all the stickiness. I like to mix it with vodka and sparkling water. And after it's been strained the orange slices make nice garnish!

Recipe (adapted from Cooking Stoned):
  • 1 pound oranges
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/12 cups champagne vinegar*
  • 5 black pepper corns
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
Special equipment:
  • quart-sized jar of some sort 
  • sieve
  • mortal and pestle (or other poundy tool)
  • another jar, bottle, something
  1. Wash and dry the oranges. Quarter them lengthwise then cut crosswise about 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Alternate layers of orange slices and sugar in the jar. Close it up and shake until as many of the orange slices as possible are coated with the sugar. Set aside for FIVE hours.
  3. While you're being patient, crush the bejesus out of the pepper corns, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Enjoy the scent because it smells great-the addition of the black pepper is surprisingly nice.
  4. ....Five hours later add the vinegar to the jar, seal it really well, and shake the crap out of it to dissolve remaining sugar. Then add the crushes spices. shake it up a bit more, and store in a dark space for day.
  5. Strain  the liquid into another jar, a bottle, a whatever.
  6. Enjoy!
*I can't get champagne vinegar at my Carrefour. Or white wine vinegar. Just regular white vinegar which is far too astringent for this. Instead I used Sava brand white wine (which let's face it is basically vinegar anyway) and a few tablespoons of white vinegar.

24 December 2015

Orange-Scented Date Rice Pudding

Happy Christmas Eve Day!!!

I decided I wanted something a little special for breakfast this morning. I seem to always have rice on hand which must be a symptom of living in Turkey because there was never rice in my cupboard in the US. With the rice there it seemed only sensible to make rice pudding. So with one of my favorite Christmas movies (Elf) playing in the background I set to work.

More than any other day of the year, Christmas Eve is when I feel the most homesick. Although a 40 degree (F) temperature drop last night caused huge winds and massive power outages...

For as long as I can remember Christmas Eve has always been done at my parents with an assortment of family, friends, and neighbors coming. Mom would spend the day running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to cook and clean while we lounged around watching movies and maybe moved around a few things to pretend we were helping with the cleaning.

 Then it was off to the children's Christmas Eve Mass! Which is seriously, the same exact thing year after year. My mom managed it once and tried to make it less bad but as bad as it is people go crazy if you try to change it. Today for me marks one year of singing the Psalms at my church here in Istanbul. I feel so much calmer about it this year than I did last! I was freaking out last year and I know it didn't go well but I think (knock on wood!) that I've got it this year. This is the only time of the year that more than a dozen people turn up to my church so hopefully being faced with packed pews and Turkish curiosity seekers standing in the back won't throw my game!

Even though I'm not in Michigan pretending to help get the house ready for tonight's party I still have plenty of prep of my own here. I've already cleaned and mopped, have to "work" for a few hours, try on all my red dresses, do my nails, practice the psalms for tonight and tomorrow morning, and watch the digital Christmas presents roll in! Oh and clean up the rice pudding mess...

I had a few wee problems with this recipe and it wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be. I prefer the takes longer but also seems to taste better rice pudding methods. However aspects of this recipe still have merit.

Recipe (adapted from My Gourmet Connection)

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  • 1 3/4 cups (whole) milk
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • a few dashes of clove
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 ounces vanilla yogurt*
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dates 
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Combine liquids and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the spices, honey, vanilla, and salt. Once combined add rice, cover, and let simmer until almost all the liquid has been absorbed (about 30 minutes).
  2. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in remaining ingredients. *I did not have vanilla flavored yogurt on hand so I used Turkish süzme style yogurt and a little additional vanilla extract.
  3. Serve room temperature or cold.

23 December 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2014 Riesling

A friend of mine was in town not too long ago and I met her at her hotel for a drink. Normally I'd have suggested Solera or one of the other wine places I like so much but she was staying at Soho House and I couldn't not go.

Soho House is a private club/luxury hotel with locations around the world. A new location was recently opened in Istanbul in what was the American Consulate here. Now the American Consulate is far outside the city it might as well be in Bulgaria. It's a gorgeous building and Soho House has done a lot of expensive renovation on it. Interestingly enough it's still owned by the Consulate (there are some rules as to what one can and can't do with things owned by embassies) but Soho House has leased it for something like 99 years. Since I don't have an impressive enough bank account nor am I cool enough to get membership, I can only get into Soho House with a member or guest of the hotel.

Inside it's all muted lighting, semi uncomfortable furniture (sure I'm a little overweight but I don't usually have a problem getting my rather non-existent hips into an armchair!), and hushed voices. Use of social media at the hotel is forbidden as are making phone calls (in the club) and taking pictures. They even go so far as to put it on the coasters (one of which I nabbed).


What does this have to do with wine? Just reaffirming that I would rather be home drinking some Turkish wine than hanging out in a club that's too cool for me with prices reminiscent of my DC days (cocktails ranged from between  35-40 TL).

Even though summer is over and I generally only drink white wine in the summer, I couldn't resist any longer the Chamlija Reisling I bought at the end of the season. I generally like Riesling and since I have yet to meet a Chamlija wine I don't like I thought that this would probably be 90 TL (from La Cave) well-spent. I was right.

Rieslings are fruity, aromatic wines that can run the gamut from super sweet to dry. If you're looking for a particular style but the label doesn't describe the sweetness level you can tell by the alcohol content. Generally the lower the alcohol content the sweeter the Riesling is. Chamlija's 2014 Riesling, at 13.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), was on the drier side.

A beautiful pale to medium lemon, this Riesling has a delicate and beautiful nose of possibly jasmine, honeysuckle, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and green apple. Rieslings have a fairly wide range of possible flavors the most dominant of which depend largely on whether the grapes are from cooler or warmer climates. Chamlija's vineyard is only 120 kilometers from Istanbul which I guess puts in somewhere in the temperate climate area? I really must find a friend who doesn't mind squiring me around though because as close as Chamlija is, it might as well be on the other side of the country to someone like me who doesn't drive.

In the mouth it's smooth and clean with zesty citrus, honeysuckle, green apples, and cantaloupe; super lovely. With medium high acidity it's also quite literally mouth watering! It's so rare that I like any white wine that's not sweet so I'm over the moon when I do. Chamlija has scored for me a couple times now; once with their Viognier-Narince, with the single varietal Viognier and now with this. I really do heart Chamlija.

Not only are Chamlija wines gorgeous to drink but their labels are beautiful. I believe that the daughter of the current vintner designs all of them. I think I should like a print to hang in my apartment. Perhaps one of these days when I make it to winery!

20 December 2015

Sunday Comfort Food: Vichyssoise

Today was the first cold morning we've had in a while, and I woke up with soup on my mind, and not just any soup: Vichyssoise. I know what you're thinking, "ooooh, fancy!" Well, don't be fooled! Anyone can make this rustic soup!

It starts with a four-ingredient Potato-leek soup:

2 chopped leeks softened in 2T butter
Stir in 2 cups chicken stock and three medium potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced), or enough to cover everything on the pot
Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes

Either using an emulsion blender or regular blender, blend until velvety smooth, adding additional stock if necessary. It'll look something like this: 

Salt and pepper to taste. If you wish, you could stop now and enjoy the soup just like this. But you could add one more ingredient and go from potato leek soup, to VICHYSSOISE (and yes, we say the 'S!'). This is where the magic happens:

Let the soup cool slightly, and stir in about 1/3cup heavy cream. 

This soup can be enjoyed chilled, or on a cold day like today, serve right warm with a garnish of chives or nutmeg.



16 December 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Arra Saranda 2014

I had a while back at a Pop Up event.  At Pop Up you bring your own wine and, as I've seen this bottle around a lot but had yet to buy it myself I was happy to share my neighbor's bottle. Unfortunately I was already in the bottle I'd brought so my notes from this are somewhat less than super helpful...

Arra Saranda 2014 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the "throat burning" Boğazkere I love so much. It's ruby red color was a little clearer and brighter than I would expect from a blend of these particular grapes. On the nose I got a lot of fruit-mostly red and tart fruits so I'm reading between the lines of my inebriated notes that there were probably cranberry, red currant, and/or cherry notes.*

On the palate it was very juicy and tart, lots of cranberry and cherry but beyond that the flavor was pretty thin; I couldn't detect anything under the fruit. Low tannins, medium acid, and a medium finish only increased the feeling that I was drinking Ocean Spray mixed with alcohol.

And yet...I'm not saying it was bad. My barely legible notes indicated that I might have kinda liked it. Given that I wasn't exactly in top tasting form when I had this I think I would like to try it again under more controlled circumstances.

*Be careful that you don't smell so deeply it goes up your nose. And if it does be discreet about how you solve your problem...

09 December 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Diren 2009 Les Muses

As sometimes happens when I'm not sure which new wine to buy, I purchased the Diren Les Muses based on how pretty the label is. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn't. I think this time it was a bit of a half win.

Diren's 2009 Les Muses is a Cabernet Sauvignon with a nice ruby red color. On the nose I got, of all things, chocolate covered cherries. While at first it seemed a little weird it really isn't when you think that Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its black cherry and dark berry aromas and that cocoa nib aromas can result from the oaking. It's the first time I've smelled chocolate that strong in a wine though.

On the palate I got a fair amount of oak, the black cherries again, maybe a little jam? I don't know what's triggering the sweet in my nose and mouth but there's something there. Maybe it's the tobacco? Good tannins just on this side of chewy, medium high acid, and a long finish round out this big wine. 

Goes well with the truffled almonds, natch. Does not pair well with Manchego. Beautiful with green apples, pork sausage, and truffle cheddar (as a combo but I'm sure individually as well-although perhaps not the apple)

I think I like it. But, as with a lot of reds I've had here, I like it with food but would not choose to drink it on its own.

08 December 2015

Cappadocia Redux

In October when my brother came to visit me we took several side trips out of Istanbul: Ephesus (of course) and Cappadocia. I was happy to make a return to Cappadocia especially knowing how much my brother, creative genius behind the photography at Igknight, would (and did) love it.
Immediately when we arrived at Emily's Cave House, I knew we were going to have a good trip. The weather in Göreme is iffy in October and the weather reports were promising rain, rain, and more rain. And wind which was even worse because high winds means no balloon flights. We'd booked (through Emily's Cave) a flight for Saturday morning but they were concerned flights would be cancelled because of the weather. After sitting us down with tea they spent a half hour calling various balloon companies trying to find one that had spaces open for a Sunday flight. Which only goes to show that you need to book these things early regardless of tourism season or not.

Since we arrived too late on Friday to do a tour, my brother and I set off on our own to do some exploring. To get to some of the less frequented valleys you need a car but there are still more than enough places to go that are within walking distance. We started in Rose Valley which can be accessed from Museum Road. From the air it's one of the more boring valleys but from the ground there are some pretty interesting cave houses. Some of which are still lived in. There's perhaps nothing odder than seeing one of these ancient cave houses with a satellite attached to it.

During our explorations we spotted something off in the distance that at first seemed like another cave house. But a zoom lens proved that this was a cave house like no other we'd seen. Someone either tiled or carved the natural rock to look like tiles resulting in what could only be described ... as a Hobbit hole. New Zealand, meet your Turkish counterpart.

The next morning we were glad that, with our hotel's help, we'd cancelled our Saturday balloon flights and booked a flight for Sunday as the morning weather did indeed keep all flights grounded. After a marvelous breakfast at Emily's we headed off on a day tour with Bridge of the World travel agency. I'd done the Green tour on my last trip but was happy to do it again as our guide for this, Yucel, was amazing. I would definitely recommend this company if you want to do a tour (they offer a variety) and if you do try to get Yucel. I don't think he stopped talking for 80% of the tour giving us information about the sites, local history, culture, agriculture...I learned a lot.

Revisiting the Selime Monastery

The Cathedral at Selime Monastery

The following morning was a huge debacle. We were told our pick up for the balloon flight would be at 5:00 AM so I set my little Nokia phone alarm for 4:30. When it went off my brother somewhat grumpily complained that he thought I said 4:30. Yes I said 4:30 and showed him my phone and he then showed me his which said 3:30. After 10 minutes of Googling we learned that while the rest of Europe had implemented its Autumn time change during the evening, Turkey elected to push its back two weeks. So we got up and got ready and waited for a pick up. And waited, and waited. I had the number of the balloon company so I called and was all, what the hell dudes? Because everyone these days lives and dies by their smart phones, all of which automatically changed time, everything was an hour late.

While that I suppose is forgivable, the company's general lack of organization and customer service was not. After we finally got picked up we were taken to a Korean restaurant (not kidding) where everyone was checked in. That process took probably another hour. We were supposed to be in a balloon with I think maybe 20 people max? They shoved 26 in ours. I complained to several staff members but was just shrugged at, told that no we weren't late we were supposed to not see the sunrise (despite that being the point of a 5AM pickup), etc etc. Avoid Cihangiroglu Balloons. Avoid avoid avoid.

At least we got off the ground that morning so I'm thankful that my brother got to do this. And we still had the Red tour to do so the day wasn't over yet!

02 December 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Yazgan 2013 Boğazkere

Recently, my favorite wine blog, Winefolly, posted 99 Reasons to Drink. As much as I revere Winefolly, I think she missed a few so I thought I'd add my 2 cents!

100. You got fun new wine glasses.
101. You got a new book about wine.

102. You actually read the new book about wine.
103. You have cheese.
104. You found a new winery.
105. Because it goes well with classic black & white films.
106. Because it improves the view.

107. Because you need space on your wine wrack.
108. Because red is your favorite color.
109. Because white is your favorite color.
110. And lest we forget...because it's scrummy!

Now for the Yazgan Boğazkere.

Unfortunately this is one of those wines that I drank ages ago but it got back burnered for a post because I was doing all whites over the summer. My notes were pretty sparse and I don't remember it very well...but I do remember that I did not like it well enough to buy another bottle and do a tasting refresher.

Dark fruits, cherries, and spice lend the nose characteristics as dark as its garnet color. On that palate it did have the nice tannins I expect from a Boğazkere which is always nice. One of the reasons I love Boğazkeres is the medium high tannins they usually have so the odd time I get a bottle that doesn't have those is very disappointing.

A little sour (yeasty maybe) at first but it softened as it opened and the tannins smoothed out, becoming round and velvety.  Flavor-wise though my overwhelming impression was cherries: dark cherries, sour cherries, just lots and lots of cherries. Not, however, in a fruit-wine way.

While not a huge winner with me and unlikely to reappear on my wine rack (I just went to Ikea again to get another one) again, the Yazgan 2013 Boğazkere was still a decent wine. I don't remember how much I paid for it but I think you're better off going to the Suvla shop for their Boğazkere (under 30TL).

28 November 2015

Pammakaristos Church Istanbul

My little brother visited me in October which was super exciting. I've been trying to get him to come for ages and finally did. Of course we did all the touristy things in Istanbul:

The Archaeology Museum (the sarcophagi are my favorite part):

The Aya Sofya:

The Topkapi Palace:

And the Kariye Museum (my personal favorite):

Since we were in the neighborhood, and especially since I'd never been, we decided to track down the Pammakaristos Church (Fethiye Museum) after leaving the Kariye. I had the address, Googled walking directions, printed them out, and even asked someone at the Kariye where the street was. It seemed relatively straight forward. But then we started walking and I remembered that, oh yes, this is Istanbul and finding the street you want is never as easy as it seems. Thank goodness for GPS.

The Pammakaristos church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in 1294 but but the parecclesion (a type of side chapel found in Byzantine churches), the only part open to the public, was not added until 1355. It was built in a cross plan with four main pillars. The largest dome depicts Jesus in the middles and the 12 surrounding segments are mosaics of Old Testament prophets.

The main dome

This was the Greek Patriarchate until the conquering of Istanbul in 1455. In 1590 it was converted into a women's mosque. After a lot of changes made during its conversion to a mosque (including some architectural changes and having all the mosaics covered) the mosque was closed and the Parecclesion was restored by the American Byzantine Institute and is now open to the public (5 TL)  as the Fethiye Museum.

I don't think this museum gets all that many visitors. If the Kariye Museum, which is one of the best examples of Byzantine art and architecture in Turkey doesn't draw that many people then I assume the near-ish by Pammakaristos gets even fewer. Which is a real shame because this is a small gem. It is completely worth navigating Istanbul's ofttimes confusing streets to find. The uncovered mosaics are stunning and the interior architectural details are equally worthy of admiration.

Jesus from the center of the main dome.

It turns out that getting to the museum wasn't as difficult as getting away. There's not a lot in the way of public transportation super nearby and I don't know the buses in that area all that well so we had to get down the hill to the main street to catch a ferry or a taxi. Finding the road down was no problem; it was the getting down part that was iffy. After a few minor twists and turns along side streets we found the one we needed but were momentarily stumped as it seemed to fall away beneath our feet into nothingness. I thought I was fairly used to Istanbul's steep hills but this one made my stomach drop.

We slowly slowly made our way, both reassured and worried that the natives were taking the hill with equal care, and successfully reached the bottom without falling. Yay me!

The long and short is that despite it not being to most simple to access museum it is worth the visit.