Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Adventures in Cooking: the joys of caramel

There's been quite a bit of fuss over the magazine cover featuring a close-up of Nigella Lawson covered in caramel. Is it innocent love? Erotic food porn? After experimenting with caramel over Thanksgiving break, I can emphatically say yeeeeeeeeeeeees. I suddenly understand the urge to douse oneself in caramel and now all I have to say is bring it on.

I had saved a couple of recipes to try at home in Texas and at the time, they didn't seem to have much in common except that I couldn't get all of the ingredients in Turkey. Ha, little did I know. The first recipe was Oreo Cheesecake Cookies; I thought they turned out just okay, but my dad was crazy about them. The second recipe was for Salted Caramel Popcorn, Pretzel and Peanut Bars - the important word there being caramel. Unfortunately, this first attempt crashed and burned. Caramel starts out as sugar, water and salt, and turns brown through a chemical reaction, after which you add in heavy cream and in this recipe, marshmallows. But mine never turned brown which meant it never turned into caramel which meant that the pretzels/popcorn/peanuts didn't hold together as bars. They more resembled a sickly sweet Chex mix.

The last recipe I wanted to try was for Sea Salt Caramels, which I've had a slight obsession for every since I got some from Good Karmal as a bridal shower favor. (The Good Karmal caramels come in multiple flavors like sea salt, chocolate sea salt, caramel apple and chipotle and they are AMAZING.) It was more than a year since I'd had them and I was totally jonesing for them. You know the caramel is good when you're still thinking about it a year and a half later.

My caramel took three tries. I started out using a blogger's recipe that had been adapted for Gourmet and while I did manage to get the caramel to turn brown this time, my caramel turned into a toffee. At the time, I thought it was the recipe so I googled around a little bit and came up with this recipe from Ina Garten.

While I like the addition of the vanilla extract, I now know that the key to making caramel is to go slow so that you can watch the temperature. The ingredients turn into caramel at exactly 248 F because of something called the Maillard Reaction, which is apparently the same reaction in self-tanning lotion (ain't that scary). If you heat the ingredients too quickly, you can't pull the pot off the stove quickly enough and the still-rising temperature is already making it tofffee. I found that if I pulled the pot off right before the candy thermometer hit 248 F, I ended up with the perfect caramel. Divine caramel. I miss this caramel.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Istanbul

Merry Christmas from Turkey! It looks pretty festive, doesn't it? In the last couple of years, the idea of colorful lights and decorated trees has really caught on here. (We've been to IKEA twice in the last month and I couldn't believe how many people I saw buying trees.) But the actual meaning of Christmas still remains a mystery to your average Turk. It's not that much of a surprise considering most people are not Christians but it's slightly amusing because most are buying Christmas trees thinking this is how we celebrate...New Year's. :)

It's a regular day here so unfortunately I had to work (I work Sundays about every other week, alas - a whole different subject). But wherever you are, I hope you had a good one! Pin It

25 Days of Ornaments: Cross-stitch manger

It's Christmas Day (although it totally doesn't feel like it here) and I suppose that means my ornaments project has come to an end. For my last one, I cross-stitched a baby Jesus in a manger and once again added a fabric backing. This time I got the pattern out of this awesome Bucilla kit (30 different patterns plus all the supplies) that I bought at Walmart over Thanksgiving for like $14. I started making the Frosty the Snowman but haven't had a chance to finish.

In the end, I didn't get to make nearly as many ornaments as I'd planned this holiday season, in large part due to the sudden arrival of a job. Oh well, I guess I'll have plenty of ideas laying around for next year.

Merry Christmas everyone! Pin It

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Istanbul City Guide up at Design Sponge!

I'm excited to tell you that my Istanbul City Guide went up on Design Sponge today. Hooray! If you're visiting my blog because you saw the story, welcome and thanks for stopping by. I blog about my adventures in Turkey and occasional DIY and crafts projects; it's a weird combination, I know.

So, to the guide...to be honest, it took me a couple of weeks to write it and I feel a huge relief knowing it's done and up. Admittedly, a large part of that time was writer's block and procrastination, the two banes of my existence (which is now, frankly, why I'm working a regular job at a newspaper). But it was also really hard to choose where to include - there are 15 million people in this city, a zillion things to do, and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. What to include and what to leave out in such a guide? Istanbul too is a city that people feel pretty passionate about so I felt a responsibility to do it right (and also a little nervous about the comments over what I chose; you just don't get that kind of direct feedback in magazines).

Anyway, er, enough about me and my writing anxieties...head over to Design Sponge and check it out! Pin It

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Odd Things about Turkey: Smoking on TV

We have a basic cable TV package and with it, we get a number of English-speaking stations, like CNN International, the BBC, and Eurosport. We also have two TV channels, e2 and MSNBC, that show American and British TV shows almost exclusively. How they choose these shows, I have no idea, as they don't seem to belong to any one network; some, like the Martha Stewart Show and Ellen, are about two years out of date while others, like Conan, Leno, Gossip Girl and Game of Thrones, are only a couple of days or weeks behind.

For whatever reason, e2 and MSNBC don't permit smoking in their programming so whenever a smoking implement appears - be it a cigarette, pipe, or weed - they cover it over with a cartoon flower. I've got used to it now though it still cracks me up...why a cartoon flower, of all things?!?

Nudity, not surprisingly, is totally fuzzed out (so why they showed Game of Thrones is beyond me) and I learned last night while watching part of Children of Men that they also fuzz out blood (or at least copious amounts of it; I happened to see the part where Julianne Moore's character gets shot in the neck).

And er, yes, I do take photos of my television. What of it? Pin It

Weekend in Gaziantep: The food, oh the food!

Between going home for Thanksgiving, trying to make Christmas a little more Christmas-y, and my new job, I've completely fallen off the blogging-about-Turkey wagon. So without further ado, the second part of our trip to Gaziantep, devoted to the food...

I only learned about Antep from Lonely Planet and wanted to see it for the mosaics, but it turns out that Gaziantep is also a huge foodie destination, which is why our friends wanted to join us on this trip. The city is known for its pistachios, baklava (made from those pistachios), and kebab and besides visiting the Mosaics Museum, pretty much all we did was eat (though admittedly we did do a little bit of shopping in the bazaars...where Cagatay and I bought, you guessed it, food). The airfare is cheap enough that we've talked about going back for another weekend just to eat.

Turkish breakfast is an event in itself; usually it's a buffet with an assortment of small dishes, the most basic being fresh bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, cheese and honey. Even though it's just a little bit of everything, it adds up - when I came here backpacking two summers ago, I could pretty much fill up for half the day. In Antep, we had breakfast both mornings at Orkide, this cute little cafe in the heart of the city that redefined Turkish breakfast. Look at the photo below - that's not even half of it. Our table was positively overflowing with plates and everything was deliciously amazing (except for the liver - I refused to try it though everyone else seemed to be pretty keen on it). At the left on the table, you can see the large plate of katmer, a famous Gaziantep breakfast dish. (It's also pictured in the close-up.) It's kind of like baklava; it's made of dough and pistachios, but it also has a cream inside, which all comes together as this smooth, nutty dessert-like dish (but for breakfast...isn't this a great place?!?). Not surprisingly, we ate at Orkide twice.

For lunch one day, we also went to the famous Halil Usta kebab restaurant, which was just around the block from the new Mosaics Museum. The restaurant is like a huge hall, with long tables, and everyone eats the exact same thing, family-style. I don't usually eat much meat but for this trip, I decided that I wouldn't ask any questions and just try whatever was in front of me. (To be honest, this worked for about a day, and then I started eating pide.) At Halil Usta, they first brought us a salad, thin, gyro-like bread, and ayran, a Turkish yogurt drink. Then came the lamb kebab, which was amazing. The waiter at first brought me the unspiced version since I was a foreigner, but little did he know that as a Texan, I would prefer the spicy. :)

For dessert, we went to Kocak, one of the Gaziantep's many baklava shops. (In the comments section of a recent New York Times article by Frugal Traveler Seth Kugel on the city and its pistachios, I read that Antep has more than 700 baklava shops!) It's interesting because while the city has mostly bland architecture, a lot of gray three- or four-story buildings, all of the baklava shops that we went into were really fancy, with lots of shiny brass and wood, and I'm not sure why that is.

It turns out that there are multiple kinds of pistachio desserts, which I think the West collectively refers to as baklava. When we went to Kocak, we each got a starter plate, if you will, with three kinds: baklava, şubiyet, and havuç (which is also the word for carrot). Baklava is what we think of, the pistachios in between a flaky pastry layer; şubiyet seems similar but is triangle-shaped; and havuç is just pistachios with a thin layer of something keeping it all together. (How do you like my very scientific descriptions?) The server brought our plates with bottled water and only after did we have tea; apparently you're not supposed to have anything else so as to not dilute/ruin the flavor.

I think the most amazing thing about these desserts was the sheer amount of pistachios. Just look at how many pistachios are in that şubiyet! You don't see anything like it outside of Antep. Later, at the bazaar, we brought pistachios to take home with us...and an awesome (but alas, name unknown) grape-leaf wrapped pistachio dessert. Yup, it's all about the pistachios. Pin It

Sunday, December 18, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Origami birds

I don't know how I came up with the idea of making origami ornaments, it was just one of those things. In my head, they were going to made out of colored sheet music as I'd seen a pretty cool star ornament using regular black-and-white music. So I asked Cagatay to digitally color some sheets - some were bright pink, some were a sunshine yellow. I decided to make two kinds of origami birds, the traditional crane and a dove, both of whose patterns I got out of an origami book that I own (the aptly titled Origami Handbook by Rick Beech); I'm sure you can also Google patterns. The folding went well but I didn't love the way they turned out - the colors looked a wee bit unnatural. The smaller version looked better, though admittedly all of my efforts are gracing our tree.

My biggest brainflash though was to use magazine pages - the paper is thin and colorful, seemingly ideal for origami. So best ornament, the dove, actually came from the pages of InStyle...thank you Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and your brownish Burburry ad. :)
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Crocheted lights

If things in the crafting world had gone well, I'd be posting right now about the cutest holiday-lights ornaments that I'd crocheted. But I'm pretty new to crochet so unfortunately, I just couldn't figure out the pattern (the appropriately named Holiday Lights by Jean Herman, available for free on Ravelry.com.) The pattern is for a garland though I was planning to use them as separate ornaments; instead, I'm stuck just posting Herman's photo of her awesome project. I'm not giving up, not completely - just thinking this might be a project better suited for next Christmas.

As you've probably noticed, I've neglected my 25 Days of Ornaments project. That's because life interfered, and I got a job! I'm now working as a copyeditor at a daily newspaper, something that deserves its own post. :) Pin It

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Paper Angels from the past

When I was in seventh grade, we lived in Washington D.C., and that Christmas, my mom decided that we were going to make little paper angel ornaments. (I think our real ornaments were in storage in Dallas.) I don't remember if we had a tree or much else about that holiday, but I can distinctly recall sitting at the table coloring in these angels with my mother and brother.

We still have them, in a plastic sack; I've kept all our old ornaments, even the ones that are completely falling apart. When I look at the angels now, they kinda crack me up, particularly because I can tell exactly who did which one. My mom's are perfect; mine are pretty good with slight flaws if you look closely enough; my brother's, a product of his age-10 artistic impulses, are delightful little horrors. :)

Maybe that's the best thing about making your own ornaments, the chance later to look back with a smile and say, oh yeah, remember when we... Pin It

Sunday, December 11, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: The Cutest Button Wreath ornament

I think this might be my favorite ornament so far - and that's saying something because I have a major crush on that little button tree. I'm also proud to say that this ornament is 100 percent original - I had an idea in my head and managed to make it more or less come out the way I wanted.

This button-wreath ornament was fairly simple to make. I started by cutting out two felt circles of equal size; I sewed the buttons on one of the felt circles and used the other as the backing. I didn't measure my circle beforehand; I'm not very good at cutting circles (or straight lines for that matter) so I traced around a jar lid. And actually, I got pretty lucky because my buttons fit perfectly around.

I sewed on the layer of dark green buttons first, one next to the other, edges touching, so they lie flat. Then I sewed the red buttons on top of them, sewing down into the small gaps between the greens to secure them. Then I sewed on the little green buttons, going through the big green button holes. At the end, I realized that the buttons were too heavy for the felt so I also cut out a cardboard circle that I glued between the felt pieces. To top it all off, I made a yarn bow and sewed it on, securing it to one of the green buttons.

One of the keys to this was the buttons, I think. I'm not a huge fan of Walmart but I must commend them on the button selection - they're nice and bright and I think that makes all the difference. Pin It

25 Days of Ornaments: Catching Up with Felt

This past week, I didn't have much time to make ornaments and thus fell behind on my grand project. Egads! So I spent part of the weekend catching up and made two fairly quick felt ornaments yesterday. When photographed by themselves on a white background, they're not terribly impressive, but on our tree - and we finally got a small IKEA tree yesterday - they look pretty nice. In that context, no one ornament really has a chance to stand out, does it?

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Knitted Christmas Tree

For today's ornament, I knitted a three-tiered Christmas tree from the book The Knitter's Year by knitting queen Debbie Bliss. I had some doubts about it as I went along - first that the shape was working out, then that the tiers would hang right - but in the end I was pretty pleased. Bliss finishes her Christmas tree off with round beads of various colors (meant to represent ornaments) but I didn't like the way that it looked in the photo, so I decided to use sequins to mimic a garland instead.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Felt Flag

For today's ornament, I made a felt flag. It doesn't sound very Christmas-y, I know, though it seems like almost anything goes in this arena. Especially when you add sequins. One side of the ornament is the U.S. flag, the other side is the Turkish flag; I told Cagatay that he and our luv had inspired me. :)

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Monday, December 5, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Button Christmas tree

When I was googling homemade ornaments over Thanksgiving, I came across a photo of the cutest button Christmas tree. Originally I thought that it came from Martha Stewart but after further googling today, it seems like it's a takeoff of one of her ideas. The originator seems to be Penelope at Modern Minerals.

I absolutely love this little ornament and it took me all of five minutes to make. I bought the green buttons at Walmart - they had quite a selection, I was impressed, because how often do you need green buttons? I cut a long piece of 24-gauge silver wire that I bought ages ago at Joanns in the DIY jewelry section and bent it into a V shape, and then I started stringing on the buttons, going through two of the holes (if there were four). I interspersed red buttons to represent tinsel but I also saw cute examples using all green buttons and some using turquoise buttons. To finish, I strung on a gold button I found in my mother's button stash to represent the star, twisted the wire together to make a chain, and then twisted together the wire underneath the gold button to secure it and hide it.

The Martha Stewart website also has another page devoted to button ornaments, made into people and animals, but alas, I don't think they're that cute. (Though to be fair, the Santa/elf/reindeer/etc do stem from a Martha Stewart Kids article.) Pin It

25 Days of Ornaments: Fimo Fun

Alas, I didn't get around to posting yesterday...which is especially sad considering that I am posting about ornaments I made a few years ago that I rediscovered when I was home.

Some of the easiest ornaments you can make are from Fimo, the colored clay that you can buy at craft stores. They kind of remind me of those dough ornaments that we used to make in school - remember those? We still have at least one - of Snoopy lying on his house - though it's sadly crumbling to bits.

The only other tools you really need are cookie cutters, a pointy tool to make a small hole, embroidery thread, and an oven. (You can bake Fimo in an ordinary oven but you have to watch the time since the clay can release poisonous fumes; I bought a cheapie craft oven to avoid this problem.) Fimo becomes pretty stiff once you bake it so you have to do everything to the clay (DON'T attach the thread) before you put it in the oven.

On these, I mostly used leftover clay and canes from previous projects. (If you want to make your own Fimo flowers, google "flower canes" and some YouTube videos will pop up.) To make the swirls, roll out different colored sheets of Fimo, stack them on top of each other, and then roll them into a log. Then cut pieces off the ends; the width is up to you. Then you place the pieces next to each other on top of your basic shape, and use a rolling pin to combine the clay.

I love fooling around with Fimo - it's relatively cheap, the colors are bright and fun, and I don't feel bad if I throw something out. :) Pin It

Saturday, December 3, 2011

25 Days of Ornaments: Cross-stitch Toy Soldier

For today's ornament, I tackled this cross-stitch toy soldier. I'd bought the kit at Joann's for $1.29 but I didn't like the red, cheap plastic frame that came with it so I decided to give him a fabric backing and then stuff him instead.

This is a pretty easy ornament to make though if you're new to cross-stitch, my best advice is to pay attention to the details. You really have to be precise and get the needle exactly through the holes or else the backstitching will be a nightmare; you know you've done a good job if the back of your stitching is nearly as neat as the front.

Once I finished the cross-stitching, I picked out a piece of scrap fabric and freehand cut out the shape around my soldier, leaving about 10 holes on either side. It's important to leave enough room so that your soldier doesn't look cramped AND so you have enough room for a seam allowance. Once you have your two pieces, lay your cross-stitch and backing front to front, with the ribbon in between them, facing down (when you turn him right side out at the end, the ribbon will then go the right direction). Sew all the way around - I left about a quarter-inch margin - leaving the bottom open.

Then turn your soldier right side out; this was probably the most difficult part since he's small. (I found it easiest to press down from the top.) Then stuff him, turn in the bottom, and sew your toy solider closed! I was pretty nervous about sewing him together - had I cut the margins wide enough? were the sides even? - but in the end, my worries were for naught and I was pleased with how this one turned out.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekend in Gaziantep: Mosaics

Two weekends ago, we took our long-awaited trip to Gaziantep, in eastern Turkey. For me, the main purpose of the trip was to see the brand-new mosaics museum; for our friends Emir and Idil, the purpose of the trip was to eat, as Antep is known for its pistachios, baklava, and meat. We accomplished both and fittingly, I thought I would divide our trip into two posts to reflect these dual missions.

We left on Friday night which ended up being fairly stressful. I had somehow hurt my back earlier in the day (I suspect it was from vacuuming) and could barely move. Then we were late arriving at the airport and in our rush, Cagatay and I left our suitcase at security. When we got to the ticket counter, we all discovered that Idil hadn't brought a photo ID...and she ended up having to fly the next morning. The now-three of us ran down to the gate and got on the last shuttle bus out to the plane -- only to end up circling the airport since Prime Minister Erdogan's plane was landed and half the runway was blocked off for security. It was a comedy of errors to say the least. :)

But by Saturday morning, everything except my back was back to normal. After breakfast, we headed to the Zeugma Mosaics Museum, which opened in September and bills itself as the world's largest mosaics museum, supplanting the Bardo Museum in Tunisia.

The museum is absolutely gorgeous; it's laid out on three levels (though you can only peek down at the mosaics on the bottom floor) and according to the Daily Hurriyet, has 2,500 square meters of mosaic on display. For the most part, the mosaics are laid out on the floor as they would have been in their original villas. There are no words to explain how amazing these mosaics are. They were created about 1,800 years ago and the level of detail - in the faces, clothes, and even borders - is stunning. (Check out the 3-D effect in the mosaic border in the fourth and last photos in the slideshow below.) How did they manage to do this - with pebbles no less?

(There is a slideshow next but you have to be on my actual blog page for it to show up; text continues afterwards...)

Created with flickr slideshow.

The mosaics come from the nearby ancient city of Zeugma, which was founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals around the year 300 and became an important stop on the Silk Road. (The famous Gypsy Girl mosaic - the eighth photo in the slideshow, the one surrounded by black - might actually be of Alexander.) Archaeologists started excavating the site in 1971; the Daily Hurriyet article cites Art Restoration Director Celalettin Küçük as saying that Zeugma had become a focus of interest "thanks to twin villas, wall paintings and the Mars sculpture that were unearthed in 2000." What he leaves out is the all-consuming floodwaters - archaeologists were basically racing against the clock to unearth the priceless mosaics before a large part of the ancient site was flooded that year due to the massive damming along the Euphrates that occured as part of the GAP irriagtion project.

As a result - despite the beauty of the mosaics and the gorgeous layout of the museum - there's a sadness to the Zeugma Mosaics Museum. Many of the mosaics have detailed informational panels, and more than a few of those lament the losses of various parts of the mosaics, either to thieves or to the flooding. The Theonoe Mosaic was revealed by the water but then they couldn't get to it and only rescued it in 2002 when the waters receded temporarily due to a technical problem; I remember another panel said that they had left another mosaic underwater thinking it would be fine only to discover later that it had been totally destroyed. Sad, no?

Slideshow in order:
1. Close-up of the Oceanos and Tethys mosaic
2. Room with frescoes
3. Achilles Being Sent to the Trojan War, my favorite mosaic in the museum
4. and 5. Zeugma Mosaic Museum interior
6.  Bust of Dionysus mosaic, my other favorite
7. Kidnapping of Europa mosaic
8. Gypsy Girl mosaic
9. Close-up of Dionysus Portrait mosaic
10. Close-up of a geometric mosaic
11. Zeugma Mosaic Museum interior
12. Pasiphae and Daidalos mosaic, with 3-D effect Pin It

25 Days of Ornaments: Santa clothes

I decided to start this overly ambitious project with the Felt Wardrobe Ornaments from Woman's Day, mostly because they're just so darn stinkin' cute. They were also pretty easy to make; the only part that really took any time was creating the ermine look by sewing black thread on the cuffs (and that step is probably skippable). I would estimate that each ornament took me about 45 minutes, minus overnight drying time for the glue.

I used the pattern for Santa jacket but it turned out pretty big (I didn't have access to a Xerox machine to shrink it and don't know how to easily do it with a printer) so I just cut the pants freehand. Since the shapes are pretty simple, it worked out fine. I used jewelry wire to create the hangers.

Now my ornaments are decorating the little white tree from Borders (Borders, sniff) that I brought to Istanbul last Christmas. I'm hoping we're going to get another tree this weekend at IKEA; otherwise I'll start having to hang ornaments from the ceiling or something... Pin It

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inspiration: 25 Days of Ornaments

I love the run-up to Christmas - it's such a festive, happy time, what with Christmas songs, feel-good movies, colorful lights, candy and cookies, and mall Santas. While there is some Christmas cheer here in Istanbul - I saw an IKEA ad on TV last night featuring dancing Santas - it's still not quite the same as being home. So I decided to embark upon a crazy project: Make 25 Christmas ornaments in the next 25 days, mostly to add some decoration to our apartment. I don't know if I can actually accomplish this but I'm willing to give it a try...

I needed some inspiration so while I was home over Thanksgiving, I searched the interwebs for ideas:

Top row, from left: Felt Wardrobe ornaments from Woman's Day; Felt Ogee Ornament from artist, author, and blogger Betz White; Sewn Bird Ornaments from The Purl Bee; and button tree ornament from an unknown source but I suspect it's Martha Stewart

Bottom row, from left: Colorful angels from etsy seller Valche; Sheet Music and Cardboard Star from Good Housekeeping; Soldier and Ballerina Needlepoint Pattern from About.com. Pin It

Monday, November 14, 2011

The little artistic details

As I mentioned last post, during our failed sightseeing trip we ended up going into the Zal Mahmut Pasa mosque in Eyup, mostly because we thought it was the Eyup Sultan mosque. (We realized our mistake when we saw that it was empty; impossible!)

One thing I like about the mosques in this city is the attention to detail; if you look around, usually up, you can find all kinds of beautiful little designs. I don't think this is unique to mosques, or even Istanbul - a lot of old architectural wonders have fine details - but these particular adornments strike me as exotic and Middle Eastern. I dig it; it seems exciting and I moved here partially for some excitement and exoticism, you know?

Surrounding the mosque is a cemetery (not sure if it's connected or just happens to be there) containing the graves of a lot of important Ottomans. The headstones here too are amazing, carved with all kinds of shapes, even though the cemetery is a wee bit dilapidated.

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A Day of Sightseeing, thwarted

Last week was the long Kurban bayram holiday (also known as Eid al-Adha) where Muslims celebrate the Abraham and Isaac story. It lasted for five days, so Cagatay had Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off from work. In keeping with the Abraham and Isaac story - where God sends a lamb at the last minute after Abraham has proved his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son - this holiday involves a lot of animal slaughter. In years past, Istanbulites would apparently slaughter cattle and sheep in their gardens/street, creating a lot of carnage; it's not supposed to happen in the city anymore but the Bosphorus was apparently a little reddish on Sunday anyway. (This article from Hurriyet Daily News presents the conundrum between religion and modernism, along 58 pretty heated comments.)

But I digress...We didn't do all that much during bayram but on Wednesday, we decided to go to Topkapi Palace, the large Ottoman palace in the historic district of Sultanahmet. (We went into the palace last spring but didn't have time to go into the harem.) But omg, the area was completely, frustratingly packed, a lot of it seemingly coming from Arab tourists. I have never seen so many ladies in burqas/chadors/abayas/etc in one place before. We strolled through the large First Court, which was covered in fall leaves, but once we got a look at the ticket line, decided to save the harem for another time.

We opted to leave Sultanahmet and head instead to the Eyup-Pierre Loti area. We planned to take the bus, which meant walking over to the Eminonu area first, and we made the mistake of thinking we'd dip into the Spice Market first. It turns out that the narrow alleyways were completely packed AND the Spice Market was closed. We jostled; we got shoved; we couldn't wait to escape. I think Istanbul redefines the word crowded; see the photo at the top of the post?

The bus depot at Eminonu was also really crowded so we ended up taking a cab...and got out partway because the traffic was at a standstill. Are you starting to see a pattern? But we made it to Eyup and went to look for the famous Eyup Sultan Mosque, revered across the Muslim world because it contains the supposed tomb of Prophet Mohammed's friend Eyup Ensari, who was part of a group trying to capture Constantinople  in the 600s. After a slight detour at Zal Mahmut Pasa Camii (more on that next post), we found what we were looking for.

The mosque was of course very, very crowded, though that was to be expected on a religious holiday. We went inside the mosque where people were actively praying; the men were in the open center while the ladies were either in the back overhang or upstairs. I know a lot of people think mosques aren't pretty, especially when compared to churches, but most I've seen have been lovely. The Eyup Sultan Mosque has a warm glow from the candelabra and an intricately painted ceiling.

The tomb, in its own building in the garden, is currently undergoing renovations. People were still crowding around it to get a peek, despite the fact that most of the building is sheeted; from what I could see, the interior seemed to be covered floor to ceiling in beautiful tiles, and I'm sure we'll make a return trip when it's open again.

After fighting our way through the crowd to the exit, we headed to the funicular to reach Pierre Loti and the cafe...only to find the line to be EXTREMELY long. So we decided, yet again, to save it for another day and since it was getting late, instead head home. But the traffic was still too bad to take a cab and we were kinda far from the metro or Metrobus. So we ended up waiting 20-plus minutes for the ferry, which would take 45 minutes to get to Eminonu - from which we'd have to take the tram to the funicular to the metro to get back home. Which means we've hit on the only thing I really hate about Istanbul: the agonizing amount of time it can take to get anywhere, which can be a little frustrating as night falls and winter comes.

I would say the day ended up being a complete failure except that on the way back, we decided to stop in Tunel and eat Thai food at Lokal, one of my favorite restaurants. :)

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Adventures in Cooking: Potato and Leek Soup

I discovered the recipe blog Brown Eyed Baker about three weeks ago and have already tried two recipes. I didn't much like the first one, a mac n' cheese - though I think the dislike came more from my personal tastes since Cagatay was pretty into it - but the second one, the Creamy Potato and Leek Soup, was AMAZING. Even though it takes about an hour to make, I've already made it twice, it's just that divine.

I'm pretty into creamy soups; the hotel that we always stay at in Lake Como, the Grand Hotel Victoria in Menaggio makes the most amazing versions and I dream about them long after we leave. But most recipes require heavy cream and I have yet to find it in Turkey. So I was thrilled with this recipe which substitutes bread instead; Martha Stewart's Pappa al Pomodoro recipe does the same thing, which makes me think that you could use bread instead of heavy cream in any soup recipe. Does anyone know if this is, in fact, true?

I followed this recipe to the letter except for the thyme/tarragon, which I didn't have - I just left that out and let the bay leaf do all the work. But one funny thing I am starting to notice about Turkey is that while they may have the same fruits and vegetables as the U.S., they don't always have the same parts. For example, the leeks: They're sold at the farmers' market without the dark-green leafy part at the top; it's just the white and light-green part. Celery is the reverse; they sell the white bulb (which you never see at home) and completely chop off the green part that we usually eat. I don't know why but I find this highly amusing. Pin It

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Commemorating Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died 73 years ago today and still every year on November 10, the Turks commemorate his life and death. He is modern Turkey's greatest hero and representations of him are EVERYWHERE. He is so revered that it is illegal to insult him, even if you are outside the country; YouTube was blocked here between May 2008 and November 2010 because of four posted videos that insulted him. He died at 9:05 a.m. at Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace - the clocks there are always set to that time - and on this date, the nation sets off sirens for two minutes starting at that time. Traffic comes to a complete standstill and even people walking are supposed to freeze and bow their heads.

Sounds really interesting, right? Yeah, I totally missed it this morning. I was home and awake and didn't hear a thing. Alas. I guess there's always next year... Pin It

Declaration of the Republic day parade

I should have posted the second half of our Declaration of the Republic day a week ago but alas, the five-day bayram holiday got in the way.

We left Eminonu by ferry at sunset and landed about 35 minutes later on the Asian side at the historic Haydarpasa train station whose roof was unfortunately damaged in a fire almost a year ago. According to the Daily Mail, the station was built in 1908 by the Germans as part of their Berlin to Baghdad train line. I was pretty excited to step foot inside as we were under the mistaken impression that the station had been a setting used in the second James Bond film, From Russia With Love. (Alas, I lated figured out totally by chance that they'd really used the Sirkeci Station in Eminonu whose train platform design is identical.)

We took the train a couple of stops where our friends picked us up and then we headed to Bagdat Street. All of the official Declaration Day events were supposed to have been cancelled out of respect for the Van earthquake victims but Cagatay was convinced the annual parade on Bagdat Street would still take place - and he was right. There were THOUSANDS of people packed into the street, carrying flags and wearing red. When we got there, the parade hadn't started but by chance there was a large TV set up on the corner we were at and it was playing videos of Ataturk and songs. The Declaration of the Republic commemorates October 29, 1923, after Mustafa Kemal (who later became "Ataturk" or "Father Turk") managed to eject the foreign powers occuping Turkey following a loss in World World I.

Obviously all of this didn't mean that much to me but Cagatay, Emir and Idil said that they felt genuinely emotional that night. Having said that, it was still really interesting and in some ways, I was really surprised by the absolute outpouring of patriotism that was about nothing more or less than the secular republic.

We walked a little while with the parade and then split up; Emir and Idil kept going while Cagatay and I went for dinner at a nearby gourmet burger place. Yum! Pin It

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wandering around Eminonu markets

Saturday was Declaration of the Republic Day and we had quite the adventure. It was both exhausting and awesome.  It was so long, in fact, that I am going to split it into two posts: early afternoon shopping in Eminonu followed the parade on Bagdat Street.

We went to Eminonu in search of yarn - there's a crochet project that I desperately want to start and I've needed black yarn for weeks. While there are a number of big-chain stores here (we have the British department stores plus one for electronics and a Home Depot knockoff), there is no Joanns or Michaels equivalent and most of the little stores have gone out of business. The only place I know of to get yarn is in Eminonu, a somewhat touristy area on the Golden Horn that a lot of the Bosphorus ferry trips leave from.

I hadn't actually been back there, on foot, since last summer, and it was weird to return there as a resident and with Cagatay. I went to Eminonu on my first day in Turkey last year and it was a little unnerving because it very much has a Middle Eastern market feel. I feel pretty safe here but to be honest, on day one, I felt like I could have been grabbed into an alley at any second - and it didn't help that I'd already had two sketchy guys that day try to pick me up. (One of them I couldn't shake; we met near the Blue Mosque and at the exit, I literally covered my head with a shawl and RAN.)

Eminonu also makes me laugh as it reminds me of my Turkish language-learning struggles (still ongoing). On that first day, by chance I wandered into the Yeni Camii, or the New Mosque, which has gorgeous details and sits by the water and was completed in 1663. Do you think you know how to pronounce Yeni Camii? I thought I did - but then when I was telling Cagatay about it last summer, I learned that in Turkish, "c" is pronounced like "j." So it's not "kammy" but "jah-mee." (Which also explains why when I'd ask people for directions - the Turkish word for street is "cadde" - they'd look at me like I was crazy.)

Anyway...after getting off the tram, we briefly walked through the courtyard of the Yeni Cami to reach the Eminonu markets at the back. Last summer, I had only walked through the enclosed Spice Market; this time, we walked through the open-air section, which had all kinds of stuff for sale. In the pets section, there were open barrels of chow, caged pigeons/roosters/etc and pedigreed dogs, dog collars, and jugs filled with leeches. We made our way through this chaotic scene and into the streets with the proper stores where literally thousands of people were trying to make their way through. This area had really practical things for sale - shoes, fabric, the most bedazzled, ugliest wedding dresses you've ever seen, etc. - and for the most part was arranged by type.

We had to ask a couple of people but eventually we found the yarn merchants, located on the second floor of some building. It was a square building with an open center and all of the stores were along the sides - and there were probably 15 different yarn stores, each packed to the brim. And omg, that yarn was cheap - acrylic yarn going for about $4 at home cost about 2 lira (or $1.12).

After that, we headed back to the wharf to catch the ferry to Hyderpasa Station, on the Asian side. We had about 20 minutes to kill before the ferry left so we walked along the promenade and watched the fishermen. Cagatay bought hot chesnuts from one of the ubiquitous vendors. I tried one and thought it tasted like half-cooked potato; I was even less impressed when he found a maggot in the last one.
We caught the ferry at just the right time, just at sunset. I really recommend this trip for touristic purposes, by the way - you pass a lot of the major sites, like Topkapi Palace, the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, and the Maiden Tower. It only takes about half an hour and costs less than 2 lira, I do believe.

At the bottom, I've added a Flickr sideshow but you have to be on my actual blog to see it. And you want to see it - I included photos of both the awful wedding dresses and the leeches. How can you resist that?

Created with flickr
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

DIY: Day of the Dead paper mache skull

For the second year running, I tackled Day of the Dead Crafts (by Kerry Arquette, Andrea Zocchi, and Jerry Vigil) and their paper mache mask. Basically what you do is attach a plastic theater mask to a balloon and use strips of newspaper and paper mache paste to turn it into a skull. If all goes well, you paint it once it's dry. Unfortunately for me, last year it did not go well at all - you have to use napkins to create the skull's contours over the mask, and I wound up with just a blob. It wasn't even worth painting it.

This year - huzzah! - was a different story. First, I started out with an actual skeleton mask; when we were in Dallas, I found a skeleton Jello mold kit at Tom Thumb that fit the bill. Then I hunted around the Internet to find the best way to paper mache. There are apparently three different methods to making the glue - I decided to go with the heated version (one part flour to four parts water, boiled for three minutes and used when warm), as it's supposed to be stronger.

I ended up making four masks. On the first, the paper mache ended up sticking to the mask, which made it really hard to pull apart. I finally did it but with some slight damage to the side. So on the second go-around, I first laid a paper towel over the mask, and applied the newspaper strips on top of that. It worked pretty well - because of the wetness of the glue, it was fairly easy to get the mushy strips to mold to the skull's shape. Cagatay later suggested using aluminum foil as the bottom layer and that ended up being my favorite, as you can mold it right to the skull and it gave the dried mask a solid weight.

I had also read that if you use paper towels as the top layer, you end up using less paint. I didn't find this to be the case though. I used white acrylic paint to cover all of my skulls and it seemed to be the same amount from one to the next; moreover, I didn't like the bumpy texture that the paper towel left.

After the white layer dries, you paint! This of course is the tricky part. I used acrylic paints and then a waterproof permanent marker for some final touches. While I'm no Frida Kahlo (alas), I ended up being quite pleased with the results. :)
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Day of the Dead inspiration

My absolute favorite souvenirs are ones from Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday - which happens to be today - that celebrates both life and death by honoring loved ones who have passed on. The objects usually involve a skull or skeleton. Over the years, I've collected quite a few, from tiny musician figurines (Elvis!) to a larger, more modern skull-in-a-demon-shell that I picked up in Guanajuato.

When Emily and I went to Mexico City two years ago, two weeks after Dia de los Muertos, surprisingly we still saw signs of it everywhere. There was a huge ofrenda in the Museo de la Cuidad de Mexico (top left and actually Emily's photo), the artfully arranged painted skulls (top right) in the lobby of the Museo de Arte Popular along with operating room scene in the museum's collection, and the Diego Rivera-Frida Kahlo altar at the Casa Azul. While it seemed at the time like all of these pieces were temporary installations (except for the calavera box), we saw so much that I imagine if you were there today - and how lucky you would be! - you would find something similar.

So with all this love for Dia de los Muertos art, is it any surprise that I own a copy of Day of the Dead Crafts? For the second year in a row, I've attempted to make my own painted skull. How did it turn out? Well, you'll just have to journey on to the next post to find out... Pin It

Monday, October 31, 2011

Strolling along the Bosphorus

I had mistakenly thought that the nice weather was gone for the year, but last Sunday turned out to be sunny and warm, so Cagatay and I decided on an outing. (I had been sick pretty much the entire week before.) I already mentioned the flag seller peddling his wares to the street market vendors.

We started the afternoon at Ortakoy, home to the city's most gorgeous mosque.  Unfortunately it's being renovated right now and is covered by a tarp but it usually sits in all its Baroque splendor at the edge of the Bosphorus, right below one of the bridges. It even made the cover of National Geographic Traveler last year. More than that, it holds a special place in my heart as Cagatay and I had one of our first dates there last summer.  

On this particular afternoon, after sitting on one of the benches in the sunshine and watching the young and trendy preen, we had a quick lunch at Kitchenette, one of the restaurants in the square. After that, we took a stroll along the Bosphorus, walking all the way to Bebek. As usual, fisherman lined the pathways. I'm not quite sure why people are always fishing out there in droves as all they ever seem to catch are these tiny little fish; on this day too the water was chock full of jellyfish. See the photo? Now multiply that by a million. (Another reason why I wouldn't be caught dead swimming in the Bosphorus.)


One of the things I love about this particular walk, which we've done with some frequency, is the architecture you pass along the way. There's one area that has rows of gorgeous Ottoman wood houses. In my (mostly-ignorant-of-architecture ) opinion, they're generally very Victorian looking - and I'm not sure if that's a coincidence or there is actually a link.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011


You may or may not know that Turkey has a "Kurdish issue" which I know far too little about to properly explain. (Time does a pretty good job though.) Although there are some 14 million Kurds living in eastern Turkey (and more in northern Iraq), what you mostly hear about is the PKK, the 30-year-old Kurdish terrorist group, which launches little attacks here and there in that area. As I gather, this entire issue seems to have simmered under the surface, in the sense that it always exists but nothing major (or decisive) ever happens.

Last week, PKK attacks killed 24 soldiers in the east, and for whatever reason, the Turkish govenment decided to launch a major offensive in retaliation. As an interior minister told a TV station last week (via the Daily Hurriyet newspaper), "The ultimate goal is to finish off the PKK." With 10,000 soldiers now in the border area, Turkey is now involved in a little bit of a war - although no one seems to be calling it that.

As a result of the now-escalated conflict, Istanbul is awash in red flags. All of a sudden, they're everywhere, strung across streets and hung proudly from balconies. I took the photos below on Sunday, in Ortakoy. The teenage boy was going around to all the vendors in the street market selling flags and from what I could see, people were snapping them up.

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