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