27 April 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Çamlıbağ 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

I seem to unwittingly be on a mission now to try all the Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Turkey. As far as missions go I don't suppose this one is so bad. Certainly it hasn't been a hardship! This week it's Çamlıbağ's special reserve 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the warm climate of Bozcaada (near Çanakkale).

In the glass Çamlıbağ's Cabernet Sauvignon was ruby red with no hints of purple. With a nose and flavor profile that includes blackberry, berry jam, tobacco, baking spice, and what I think were violets it's pretty stereotypical of a warm climate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lowish tannins and low alcohol don't make for a big Cabernet and this was no different. However for a medium-bodied Cab it did okay. I can't be positive but oaky flavors of baking spice and tobacco in the finish hint that this wine spent at least a little time in oak.

For 45TL (from La Cave) this wasn't too bad. Comparatively I prefer the similarly priced Arda Cabernet Sauvignon or the more expensive Ma'adra and the next time I want a Cab I'm far more likely to buy one of those instead of this one. However after tasting this one I am far more willing to try the other wines offered by Çamlıbağ. 

25 April 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Journey

M and I attempted to breakfast at Pell's Cafe on Thursday but it seems to have disappeared. So on a recommendation from his neighbors we went to Chigangir's popular Journey. (I've never experienced anything like E&M's building-at least half of the neighbors are friends and they all hang out all the time.) I haven't been to Journey in years and then not for breakfast so I was excited to try.

I was a little taken aback when I received my latte. I knew going in that Journey was a bit hipster (Have you seen what hipsters do to food?! They need to be stopped!) even so my eyebrow went way up when I received my deconstructed latte. I had to swallow my sarcastic remarks in the end though because this was one of the best lattes I've had here. No one in Turkey seems to get the difference between a latte and a cappuccino; the only real difference between them here is that the latte might be served in a tall glass. Journey gets major points for theirs though which essentially was a couple shots of espresso served with hot (but not foamed!) milk on the side. I had two.

M and I split the paleo breakfast and the buckwheat pancakes. Hipster ahoy. The paleo breakfast was a little weird but had some good offerings: a slice of walnut bread, olives, butter, pesto, walnuts, brie, avocado slices, REAL bacon!, and arugula with lemon.

It also came with a fried egg with spinach and porcini mushrooms. That was so yummy. So, so yummy. As was the bacon. Real bacon.

The pancake plate was also pretty nice. Five mini pancakes with slices of orange, pear, strawberries, bananas, and grapes with kaymak and maple syrup. Buckwheat is not my favorite pancake flavor but they weren't too strong and with a dollop of kaymak and strawberries there really were quite nice.

Journey has a pretty extensive breakfast menu and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere. Definite thumbs up for the breakfast and the coffee! I will be back. I wonder if they'd give me a side of bacon with my next breakfast order?

Kılıçalipaşa Mah. Akarsu Cad. No: 21-A
Cihangir, Beyoğlu

22 April 2016

Brutti Ma Buoni - My Trials and Tribulations

In November when I was in Rome L and I had the most magnificent cookies called brutti ma buoni - literally ugly but good. I have tried several times now to recreate them and are consistently turning out far more brutti than buoni. I shall persevere!!

Both attempts had good and bad points. The first recipe I found was, I now believe, miswritten. No way one egg white was enough so I did some guesstimating and randomly threw in a few more egg whites. I also went the whole nine yards with roasting whole hazelnuts then putting them through a food processor with confectioner's sugar.

I'm sure it was an ingredient  proportional issue but these baked flatter than a pancake. Brutti ma buoni should be puffy and round, kind of like a coconut macaroon. Sans the coconut.They were both brutti and buoni but brutti in a completely different way than they should have been. But wow did they taste good.

For my second batch I used a completely different recipe. I also skipped a step and used prepulverized hazelnuts that I found at Carrefour. Even the method with these cookies was much different and involved hand whisking the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler-which I think made a big difference in how the cookie turned out.

I knew as soon as I scooped these onto the cookie sheet that I had a better chance this time of making them look right. The meringue was fluffier and the raw dough stayed put instead of migrating into the surrounding cookies.

This recipe also called for a significantly less amount of hazelnuts so that explains why they may have looked slightly better (well, better = the way they're supposed to) but did not have the big hazelnut flavor that the first batch did. I also think I let them bake like two minutes longer than they needed. My new oven and I are still learning how to get along.

So the first batch wins for taste but the second sort of wins for looks. I think my next attempt will be with the below recipe which is the one I used for the second batch but with some tweaks.  When made correctly these cookies are amazing and totally worth all this trial and error to get right!

Brutti ma buoni


  • 200 grams whole hazelnuts
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 Tbs (30 grams) flour
  1.  Preheat oven to 350 F/177 C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the hazelnuts on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes (or until fragrant) and skins begin to flake. Remove and place on a clean dish towel. Roll up the towel and let them steam for about 10 minutes then rub the (still in the towel) briskly to remove the skins. Let them cool completely then coarsely chop (or run through a food processor).
  2. In a heatproof bowl placed over a shallow pan of simmering water combine the sugar and egg whites whisking constantly until opaque in color.
  3. Remove from heat and beat with a hand mixer until thick and glossy. Beat in the vanilla then fold in the flour and chopped nuts.
  4. Place heaping tablespoonsful on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 12-ish minutes then check and bake more or not.
These are best the day of but will keep for a day or two in an airtight container. 

20 April 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2013 Sui Generis

Chamlija's new Sui Generis is a study in how important it is to let your wines breathe. I started out completely turned off by this one only to do a complete reversal the next day. But before we get to my Saint Paul*-like conversion...the pertinents.

A little more expensive than the average bottle of Chamlija, a bottle of Sui Generis will set you back 105 TL, unless you get it from Solera like I did where you get a 25% discount when you buy a bottle to go. Before 10PM of course when Turkey's no alcohol sale law kicks in. The Sui Generis is a blend of Cabernet Franc 42%, Merlot 32%, and Cabernet Sauvignon 26% that has spent a fair amount of time in French oak.

In the glass it was a dark, inky red color. The nose was huge with more things than I could identify however I think I managed to pick out scents of black fruit and berries, cocoa, something floral or sweet tobacco...there was something giving it a sweet scent. Of course I could just be making up all that. I do like to make up things. Before it properly opened the low tannins and higher acid did not balance well and my take away was that it tasted a lot like a liquor-filled chocolate. And while I like chocolate, a lot, I usually spit out the liquor-filled ones.

I was prepared to say that I liked this on principal alone. Much like my relationship with Suvla's wines I'm pretty well in love with Chamlija's wines and defend their honor to any who dare impugn it. That said I almost dumped the remainder a day later because apparently my principles only go so far. Instead of throwing it out I decided to give it one more try. Chamlija has not let me down so far and I couldn't accept that it had this time, especially when the Sui Generis comes with such a fantastic label.

Gorgeous. The fact that I could do such a 180 on my opinion makes me think I need to be better about letting my wines breathe a bit before diving in. I think I'll get a decanter or see if someone in a more normal country will send me an aerator. Once it had breathed properly the acid settled down and the black fruits and tobacco created a big, bold flavor with a delightfully long finish.

One of the things I love about Chamlija wines is the bottle descriptions. I've mentioned before how much I love the poetry of Suvla's descriptions but Chamlija goes another way. Their wines introduce themselves which I find fantastically charming. Merhaba, ben Sui Generis (Hello, I am Sui Generis) begins the back of this label.

*I think in fact that I like the Sui Generis better than I like Saint Paul. I've always found him rather supercilious.

18 April 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Forno

A few months ago I met a work contact for breakfast in Balat. I don't often go to Balat and really wanted to take pictures for a breakfast review but also didn't want to be that weird person taking pictures of her food. However I totally can be that weird person around my friends who have, by and large, already accepted that I am weird. Since spring has finally arrived in Istanbul I dragged M to Balat Saturday morning for breakfast and exploration.

Once we got to Balat on the Golden Horn, which is the new new hipster neighborhood it took me a few minutes to find my way back to Forno. However in those few minutes we realized that Balat is not lacking for breakfast places! It is quite the opposite actually as there's a new, and often quite colorful, cafe every few meters. I see many a field trip to Balat in our future.

Forno is well-known for its pide, however its breakfast isn't too shabby either. For 35TL you get access to a full breakfast buffet, fried eggs of your choice (M had eggs with cheese, I got them with roasted meat), and unlimited tea. Of course they also offer a variety of coffee options. The breakfast buffet is pretty amazing: simit, bread, croissants, su borek, five different cheeses, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, tomato paste, olive paste, kaymak, honey, jams, and fruit yogurt.

Forno is small, just a few tables, and while there were staff a plenty service was a little iffy Saturday morning. M ordered a filter coffee that didn't arrive until 10-12 minutes after he ordered it and after we'd asked for it a second time. His second coffee took nearly as long to get which, considering they seem to be using a pod coffee maker, there really just isn't an excuse for that.

Iffy service aside, the food is great. The eggs were tasty and the buffet offerings certainly above standard. M and I were enamored of the yogurt which was like the kitchen sink of yogurts with apples, pears, strawberries, orange peel, and honey all thrown into the mix. We had several helpings. While this is just my first foray into breakfasting in Balat I would definitely recommend Forno.

Fener Kireçhane Sk. No:13
Balat, Fatih

15 April 2016

A Few Tips For Surviving Istanbul

Even if it's not your first trip to the city, Istanbul can be incredibly overwhelming for novice and pro travelers alike. A city of immense proportion with something like 18-20 million inhabitants and the traffic to go with it is enough to knock anyone for a loop. I've lived here for over three years now and am still discovering ways to make life easier. Whether you live here too or are just visiting, hopefully some of these tips will help you.
  • Getting molested on public transportation: If you're a woman alone its likely this will happen to you, especially on the tram which is heavily frequented by tourists. When it happens the most important thing to remember is that there are not consequences for you for objecting. So don't be afraid to do so whether or not you speak Turkish! In fact sometimes yelling in English (or whatever your native language is) is more helpful as you might get a really determined asshole who will answer you back in Turkish. If this happens to you:
    • Yell, go for it. Be loud. 
    • Try to make it obvious to others what happened. You'd be surprised by how many people will defend you.
    • Hit the bastard. I bend back fingers and gouge with my elbow-remember your elbow is the sharpest and hardest part of your body. 
  •  Speaking of, some helpful words!
    •  Ayip!: Shame!
    • Sapik!: Pervert!
    • Bana dokunme!: Don't touch me!
  • Also get the IstanbulKart-it's good for multiple people and works on all the public transportation: metros, tram, buses, ferries, cable cars, etc. 
  • Tea is ubiquitous and you will get offered tea in every shop. If you want some go ahead and accept a cup. Drinking tea does not obligate you to buy anything.
  • On that subject...the same holds true if a shop keeper pulls out his entire stock. This is a common practice, especially with rug sellers, and if you don't like anything you don't like anything! Don't buy something just because you feel guilty.
  • There's still a little discrepancy in how long you can use your foreign phone with a Turkish SIM card before your phone gets locked. If you're moving here or planning to stay for longer than a month you need to register your phone. YellAli, which is a great website for living in Turkey advice, has posted what you need to do to get your phone registered
  • VPNs are your friend. I have used several since moving here and the one I like at the moment is Private Internet Access. It doesn't work for everything (notably Netflix and Spotify) but it does work for Amazon, network TV stations, and many other things. Also it's comparatively inexpensive. 
Aya Sofia
  • If you live here and have a student or residence permit you are entitled to a MuzeKart. Get it, use it, love it. For a measly 50 TL a year (you need a new one every year) you have free access to most of the major museums and sights around Turkey including: Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Chora Church, Archaeology Museum, Hieropolis and Pamukkale, Ephesus, Cappadocia museums, etc. Basically it gets you into all the museums that fall under the purview of the Ministry of Culture.
Suleymania Mosque
  •  Always carry a scarf/shawl with you. For one thing, you never know when you might want to pop into a mosque but even more than that you never know when you'll find yourself in a super conservative part of the city. Regardless of how you feel about women being required to cover you may feel more comfortable if you are too.
  • Yemeksepeti will save your life. This food delivery website is a hub for online food order/delivery. Not every restaurant participates, but for those that do you can order food and have it delivered fairly quickly even if you don't speak Turkish.
View from Eyup

13 April 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Arda 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

In a feeble attempt to make moving apartments easier I stopped buying wine a while ago so when I moved into my new place my stock was fairly low. My co-worker R and I stopped at Solera on the way to my new place to start my stocking up process and as a house warming gift she bought me this bottle of Arda 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. She'd had it before at Solera and loved it.

Arda is a family run Trakya-based winery producing boutique wines and I am adding to my 'one of these days I actually will visit Edirne and tour wineries' winery list. I've had Arda wine before and while this is the first one I'm blogging about it won't be the last. Especially given the relatively low price, at Solera at least. At Solera if you buy wine to go you get a 25% discount so this, which has a 65TL sticker price, we bought to go for only 48.75TL.

Aged for 8 months in three kinds of French oak, this cherry red Cabernet Sauvignon didn't have as much pepper in the nose as is stereotypical of this grape. Rather I got a lot of baking spice and red berries at the top with hints of tart red raspberry underneath.

In the mouth there are a fair amount of tannins initially but they drop off pretty quickly letting the berry flavors linger pleasingly. As with many red wines the more it breathed the more the flavors opened and softened making this a very nice example of a lighter-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with dominating flavors of red berries and mint.

I later went back to Solera for their steak and another bottle of the Arda Cabernet Sauvignon. A) This wine goes beautifully with meat. B) Holy crap is Solera's steak magnificent. Magnificent. In a country where finding good steak is as rare as being able to get meat cooked any other way than really definitely dead, Solera's steak was cooked (or not as the case may be) to perfection, well-seasoned, and cut like a real piece of meat (as opposed to the way butchers here like to just randomly hack at a cow and give you what results).

11 April 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Cafe Lumiere

With E&M back in town (at least temporarily) I have breakfasting companions again! Taking advantage of the brief window I have them we met Friday morning for breakfast at nearby Cafe Lumiere. We've all been to Cafe Lumiere before but never for breakfast so this was a new experience for all of us.

I chose Cafe Lumiere because, after checking their menu online, I saw that not only do they have the full compliment of Turkish breakfast items but they also had several Western options, including one of my favorites: Eggs Benedict. Apparently E&M were also craving a taste of home because we had three orders of coffee, fresh orange juice, and Eggs Florentine.

Service at Cafe Lumiere is so-so. We ordered bal kaymak to go with our eggs but it never arrived. It never made it on the bill either though so at least there's that. And apparently when you ask for filter coffee with milk on the side they take that to mean you only want half a cup of coffee. Mama needs way more caffeine that half a cup.

When the eggs came out they were served with not only spinach as is proper for Eggs Florentine but also with lettuce-which was weird. We also suspect that the bacon on the eggs-for which we had so much hope because it was all capitalized in the menu-was not really bacon. Overall it was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. I think Nar's Eggs Benedict (including real bacon) was better but considering this place is around the corner from my apartment I can see myself visiting again when I need a hollandaise fix.

I love how many independent cafes and restaurants there are here in Istanbul. We have lost a lot of that in the States-it's just so expensive for the owners now to be independent. So Friday's questionable service aside I like Cafe Lumiere. It's a local place with a varied menu and a nice atmosphere. The inside is cozy and welcoming and they have a covered garden that's pretty relaxing.

Cafe Lumiere
Kuloğlu Mh., Altıpatlar Sk. No:7
Çukurcuma Cihangir
+90 212 244 1267

06 April 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Ma'adra 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Finally the guys at La Cave gave me a good recommendation! I've been burned by them a few times but I decided to try this wine because it's a new brand on the market from the Aegean and because generally I like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Before we even opened the bottle E was admonishing me for the bad influence I've had over M. In the past the two of them were of the 'wine is wine' school and when they came to Turkey wouldn't spend more than 20-25 TL per bottle. Now he's taking the tasting process seriously and coming home with bottles that cost 40 TL and up. I'm not sure if the fact that E very much loved this 75TL bottle of wine or if it's also my fault that now I'm ruining her palate for cheap wine.

The time this Ma'adra spend in French oak was immediately obvious. The nose was full of vanilla with hints of baking spice. I was also getting a lot of black fruits like black raspberry. What I did not smell at all was green pepper which, according to the bottle, is one of the things I should have been smelling. Oddly enough though E, who usually describes wine with unhelpful adjectives like 'butterflies, fire trucks, and conga lines' did get the green pepper.

In the mouth the wine was velvety with medium tannins and acid and a nice finish. The raspberries were even more obvious to me here as were the baking spices. Basically, to me, the Ma'adra Cabernet Sauvignon smelled and tasted a little like the raspberry walnut blondie brownies I love so much. Which is really dangerous because I like to eat those for breakfast and as much as I have been tempted to have wine for breakfast before I am firmly resolved to not do any drinking until the clock is no longer in the AM.

I'm now very excited to try other wines by Ma'adra. The Cabernet Sauvignon is gorgeous and I will definitely be buying it again. 

04 April 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Mavra Cafe

Mavra, located near the historic Galata Tower, is often cited as being one of the best places to eat in Galata. It's not bad; but it's also not awesome which means either my taste buds don't agree with people who write these articles (hello The Guide) or that everywhere else is worse.

Mavra is a design concept store and cafe which means in addition to food they also sell an assortment of random decorative objects and jewelry. I've had lunch here before and the schnitzel was really pretty decent but it was the create names for the breakfast items that had me coming back. With dish names like Good Morning Princess and Gateway to Paradise I felt like I was in a combination Turkish Chinese restaurant. And breakfast was good, but I'm kind of a stickler for having the food served to me match the description.

I tried the French toast and the Gateway to Paradise. As an American when I think of French toast it's slices of bread that have been dipped in an egg-milk-cinnamon concoction before being fried. At Mavra (and I suspect as a general rule here) the Turkish name for French toast which translates as eggy bread was far more accurate. This was not at all sweet, in fact I think there were some savory herbs mixed in the eggs that thickly coated the bread. However in that beautiful Turkish ability to mix sweet and savory like genius food gods, the savory eggy bread combined with some feta cheese and honey was really pretty great.

It was the Gateway to Paradise that turned out to be ironically disappointing. The description promised thick yogurt (check), seasonal fruit (check-ish), honey (check), and walnuts. The kiwi was an odd choice, I thought, nor were they especially ripe and unless they used special, invisible walnuts those were missing entirely. However I did go to the store later to stock up on yogurt, fruit, and walnuts because conceptually I like the idea.

Not my favorite spot so far but it's a decent cafe with a fairly diverse menu and worth a stop.

Serdari Ekrem Sokak No. 31
Galata, Beyoglu