Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Adventures in Cooking: Grilled Thai peanut pizza

It's been awhile since I've posted any of my cooking adventures, though I have been periodically trying out new recipes. One of my more recent experiments was a grilled Thai peanut pizza recipe that I found on atasteofthai.com. I'd brought back some of their peanut sauce mix from my last trip home, but I wasn't sure what to do with it -- and when I saw this recipe, I thought to myself, "I love this peanut sauce and I love pizza. What could go wrong?"

Unfortunately, plenty. The recipe calls for a couple of ingredients that I didn't have, like a red onion (yellow only) and basil leaves. I also don't have the infrastructure to grill anything, so I cooked it in our desktop oven. I suppose I could blame the very odd taste of this pizza on my tweaks, but I now realize that pizza and peanut sauce do not, in fact, go together.

Oh well. From now, I will just stick to using the peanut sauce in my much-tastier throw-what-you've-got-into-the-pan stirfry.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

On turning 36...

I've had a couple of days to think about it, and in the immortal words of Sex and the City's Charlotte York:

[There's a video, which doesn't show up in Google reader, and perhaps other places.]

Charlotte goes on to explain that since she doesn't look 36 and she doesn't feel 36, she's just not going to turn 36. She adds that men have much more interest in meeting 35-year-olds, which does in fact have some historical precedent. The Savoy hospital in London, which was in operation from 1505 until 1702, only hired nurses who were unmarried and over the age of 36 -- because they were thought to be past the age when they might seduce the patients, according to The Writer's Guide to Everyday in Renaissance England. Ouch.

Ahhh, how I understand Charlotte's dilemma. While I decided last year upon turning 35 that I would stick at 28, I just can't bring myself to actually tell anyone that I'm 28, at least not with a straight face. Alas. Pin It

Istanbul's Hippodrome

Before the concert at Aya Irini, Eva and I met up at the Hippodrome. Despite the fact that every time I go there some tout will try to chat me up, I just love it. I think it's because of the history of the place and that you can almost visualize what it used to be. And despite the random guys hanging around, it's also really quiet when compared to the touristy part of Sultanahmet.

According to Wikipedia, Emperor Septimius Severus built the hippodrome here in the year 203, no doubt to give the citizens of Byzantium some entertainment. (A hippodrome was a long oval-shaped arena where chariot races and other events were held.) Constantine enlarged it in the fourth century, and it became the center of the city's social life; its stands were capable of holding 10,000 spectators.

The emperors would place columns in the middle of the Hippodrome to adorn it, and three still remain (along with two bases, which are in the Archaeology Museum nearby). The one you can see clearly in the photos is the Obelisk of Thutmose III, which was taken from Luxor in the fourth century by Emperor Theodosius I. The emperor is depicted on the base, handing out a laurel wreath. Pin It

Inside Aya Irini

At the end of June, the 40th Istanbul Music Festival was on, and my friend Eva suggested that we go to a concert, primarily because some of them would be held in the nearly-impossible-to-get-into Aya Irini (also spelled Hagia Eirene), which she wanted to see.

Aya Irini was the first church built in Constantinople, in the fourth century; that version burned down though during the Nike revolt, and the current building dates from the sixth century. It's not open to the casual visitor, though apparently you can go as part of a group of at least 10 if you arrange permission, and of course, it's been opened for events. (Having said that, Cagatay and I were at Topkapi Palace one day, and the doors to Aya Irini were wide open to the public, seemingly because there was an exhibit on. So we got to go inside, easy-peasy.) But as a result of the limited entry, I feel like there's a lot of hype around it because it's so difficult to get into -- but I'm not sure it's deserved. There's almost nothing to see inside. It's completely devoid of ornamentation, except for a simple mosaic of an outlined black cross on a gold background, dating from the Iconclast era, when figurative art was forbidden (and destroyed).

Eva and I ended up choosing a concert featuring Milos, a young Montenegran musician who's made a splash in the last couple of years playing the Spanish guitar, as the program included one of my favorite musical pieces, Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The concert also featured the Milli Reasurans Chamber Orchestra, who started the night with Rodion Shchedrin's phenomenal arrangement of Bizet's Carmen suite and ended it with Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin.

I was concerned that Eva would be disappointed in the experience after she'd specifically wanted to go to see the venue, but the music paired with the setting was AMAZING. I will never say another bad thing about Aya Irini again -- sitting in there under that huge dome, I was just overwhelmed by the history of the building, and the music was so beautiful, and so clear with the acoustics. (There's a video that comes next; I've noticed that it doesn't show up on Google reader.)

I've heard recently, though, that they are no longer allowing Aya Irini to be used for events, though I don't know if this is a permanent decision. If it's to protect the building, it's probably a good thing, though the concert was so magical that I wish everyone could enjoy the experience. :) [Update, 9/26: It appears that my trusty source was wrong; Aya Irini is listed as the venue for the kickoff concert for the 2012-2013 State Opera and Ballet season this Saturday.] Pin It

Friday, July 27, 2012

London Olympics: Best Souvenirs

It's Friday afternoon here, and I am more than excited for this weekend -- not only is it my birthday tomorrow and Cagatay's and my two-year anniversary on Sunday, but tonight also sees the official opening of the Summer Olympics ceremonies, in my favorite city, no less. Break out the biscuits and bunting, it is time to celebrate!

I had so much fun compiling the best souvenirs for the Queen's Jubilee (which should have included the sporty Regal Egg Cups that martasantos mentioned in the comments) that I decided to do the same for the Olympics, which, admittedly, is really just an excuse to compile the best British souvenirs I could find. The Olympics souvenirs are -- hmm, how do I say this tactfully? -- oh yes, tacky. The truth hurts. I've gotten several up-close looks at Heathrow in the past six months, and I just couldn't bring myself to buy anything -- and I loooove British souvenirs. But you don't have to feel bad for them -- the New York Times reported yesterday that the London Olympics souvenirs are going to bring in an estimated $1.5 billion.

But I digress... With price as no object, the best souvenirs to bring home from the London Olympics:

1. Typographic map of London, free download  2. Queen Duck, £12  3. Double-decker bus, £7  4. Olympic Henrietta flats, $230  5. Jubilee Union Jack toast stamp, £4  6. Ben Sherman Union Jack design Flight Bag,£35  7. Queen's head jelly mold, £10  8. Alexander McQueen clutch, $1,695 9. Muji's London in a Box, £8  10. Grunge UK flag iPhone case, $45
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Urban Oasis: Istanbul's Anadolu Kavagi

When Cagatay's grandfather came to visit about a month ago, his sister suggested that we take a mid-week afternoon excursion to Anadolu Kavagi, a little fishing village located on the Asian side of the Bosporus. It's pretty far north on the coast and has (so far) escaped the merciless urbanization that Istanbul has undergone. I've heard that Anadolu Kavagi can be quite crowded on the weekends, but on a late Thursday afternoon, it was nearly empty and gloriously serene.

There's not all that much to do but sit at one of the waterfront restaurants and eat and drink. So that's what we did. At one point, we took a stroll around town, but since "town" is only about three streets, it didn't take us long.

Turks generally enjoy sitting around the table, making dinners a lengthy process. We probably arrived there at 4:30pm and stayed until it was dark. This meant, of course, that we got to see the sunset, a rare treat in Istanbul. Usually, day just passes colorlessly into night here -- there's almost never the red/pink/orange/purple sky you see at home, and I'm not sure why that is. The same was true in Anadolu Kavagi and the sunset wasn't particularly colorful, but the light was such a strong orange in the latest part of the afternoon, shimmering off the the ferry building. It was just so tranquil, and I imagine this day will remain as one of my favorite memories of here.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Turkish art at Sakip Sabanci Museum

Some weeks ago, Cagatay and I headed to the Sakip Sabanci Museum on the coast of the Bosporus to catch the last day of an exhibit of Dutch Golden Age paintings from the Rijksmuseum (because we didn't see enough when we were in Amsterdam, ha). But since that's irrelevant now that the exhibit's over, I thought I'd talk about the grounds and two permanent exhibitions there.

The museum, formerly a residence, is in a gorgeous location, a bit up on a hill and overlooking the water. The view actually reminds me of Lake Como, which is a place I have never associated with Istanbul, though it's perhaps because the house was designed by an Italian architect, in 1925. It was built for an Egyptian family but acquired in 1951 by Turkish businessman Haci Omer Sabanci, and it eventually passed to his son, Sakip. (The family-owned Sabanci Holding is one of the largest companies in Turkey.)

Sakip Sabanci was apparently a large collector of Korans, illuminated manuscripts and calligraphic panels, which make up the appopriately titled Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection, a permanent exhibition housed in the mansion. We saw this section last, and I'd thought it would be really boring, but I was actually quite impressed, both by the works themselves and the presentation. Before you go into that section of the museum, you first pick up an iPad, and there were probably about 10 different panels to click on. Some of them featured these funny little animated scenes using the illuminations; others featured the books themselves, that you could scroll through, and it was really cool to be able to see the real book in front of you, behind the glass, while flipping through it on the screen. I've been really impressed lately with the way museums have been integrating technology with their exhibitions, reminding me of the amazing Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibit we saw at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Before the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection, we'd gone through the museum's exhibition/collection on Turkish painting, While a Country is Changing: Turkish Painting from the Ottoman Reformation to the Republic. I don't think of Turkey as being particular Western -- it's really it's own unique place, a mash-up of East and West, with (currently) strong religious tendencies -- and I was so surprised to see of a history such obviously Western paintings from Turkish artists. Even more interesting, according to one of the information panels, the museum sees it as a continuation of the calligraphy collection, "reflecting the transformation of visual representation in Turkish art, changing concepts of art and the artist, and the process of modernization between the late Ottoman and early Turkish Republic periods."

From left to right: Hikmet Onat's Landscape with Bridge (1922) and Osman Hamdi Bey's Kokona Despina (1906) 

The collection starts with works from the mid-1800s, which was when Western literary forms were introduced to Turkey and Turkish painting started to reflect Western styles. According to the panels, artists gave up Ottoman miniature painting and started working on canvas, painting landscapes and still lifes. They also began to paint portraits of real people, whereas before, they could only paint the sultans. When Turkish artists went abroad, they -- gasp! -- also learned about painting nudes, which was forbidden in Turkey. (The exhibit has a whole wall devoted to this genre.) Many of the paintings were undated, but I'd say the exhibit ran through about the 1930s (though one of Fikret Mualla's paintings was from 1957).

From left to right: Nazmi Ziya Guran's Taksim Square (1935), close-up from Guran's Backgammon Players, and Cevat Dereli's Mevlevi Dervishes

Two paintings from Fikret Mualla: Moda and Street -- Blue 
I didn't realize it at the time but I'd apparently managed to soak in a lot of this information; we went to Istanbul Modern yesterday and saw their (much larger) exhibit New Works, New Horizons, presenting "the evolution of modern and contemporary Turkish art from its earliest stage to the present day." It all looked pretty familiar, and I even managed to recognize some of the artists by their style.
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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Urban transportation: Istanbul's Metrobus

There were many reasons why I quit my job, but one of them was that it was taking me more than an hour each way to get to and from work. From our apartment, we'd walk about 20 minutes to the metro, which I'd take two stops, then I'd get on the Metrobus for about 35 minutes, and then walk for another 5 minutes or so.

Ah, the Metrobus. Inaugurated in 2007, it runs on the European side, in its own dedicated lane in the middle of a highway. It's a great concept. And at some point in the spring, the IETT started running a TV ad on the Metrobus to remind everyone how great it is:

Doesn't that guy look happy? (If you didn't watch the video, you need to click on it, really.) And in the morning, it wasn't so bad. I got on at the first stop, so I almost always had a seat, and it really required only the slightest bit of aggression. In the evenings, though, it was hell on wheels...which is why a lot of people took exception to the ad. Some clever folks even spoofed it, and unfortunately for all of us who live here and have to ride the Metrobus, it's not so far off the mark:

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Working in Turkey

I've been out of my Monday-Friday (+Sunday!) job for almost two months now, but it's probably never a good time to blog about your workplace, past or present. So I'll just say this for specifics: I worked as a copy editor for about six months at the English-language version of a conservative, pro-government Turkish newspaper. If you're here in Istanbul, you probably know which paper I mean.

When I first got the job, I found the workplace to be like Mars -- that is to say, an alien world. First off, Turkey has a six-day work week (45 hours), which is unfortunate since studies have shown that an employee's productivity peaks at 40 hours and minimum wage here is a mere TL 700 (which I've also heard cited as the average wage). For most Turks, that sixth day would be Saturday (at the paper, however, we had Saturday off and worked most Sundays). And so, funny enough, when Turks want to take time off, they have to count the Saturday -- Cagatay, for example, doesn't actually work on Saturdays, but he still has to count it in vacation time.

One of the other things that shocked me was that employers pick your bank. The company is affliated with a bank, through whom you'll get your paycheck; if your previous employer used a different bank, when you get a new job you'll have to switch. The company also provides lunch -- at smaller companies, you get a lunch card that you can then go out and use at restaurants, fast-food joints and even the grocery store. Our company was quite large, so we ate downstairs in a cafeteria -- though I heard the cafeteria shuts down during Ramadan, and during that month (July-August this year), the foreigners eat out.

I can't say though that every workplace shuts down its cafeteria -- as I said above, our company was very conservative, which in this context means religious. I worked with expats and Turks on the English-language newspaper, and we were all in the same area, and things always seemed quite normal and relaxed. I never noticed a division in the sexes, but then at lunch, all of the men would sit together on one side of the room while all the women sat together on the other. EVERY SINGLE DAY. (Fittingly, the expats usually sat together in the middle.) The gyms were also segregated. The building had two gyms, which three groups shared -- the executives, the men and the ladies. And the women had their own workout time, a very limited time (eight hours over the week, as I recall). Apparently the regular guys and the executives couldn't work out together in the same space -- but of course, I wouldn't know, SINCE I WASN'T ALLOWED IN.

It all just seemed so, so strange at first. There were other workplace issues, too (ahem, plagiarism), but after awhile, I got completely used to it and couldn't remember what initially seemed so strange. Which seemed even stranger. :) Pin It