05 November 2014

Goodbye Kenya

Big cats are always going to be my favorites in the wild kingdom; but I do really enjoy the giraffes as well. Almost as much as I love to take a picture and make just one aspect of it color. I decided to combine my obsessions and do that to some of my giraffe pictures.

Kenya was so incredible; it left me awed, amazed, and speechless. So I'm going to end my Africa series with no more words, just the pictures.

04 November 2014

Persimmon Rice Pudding

Fall continues here in Istanbul although not nearly as beautifully as when I wrote my last fall post. Instead of Indian Summer weather and blue skies we are moving into an almost early winter. Which in Istanbul means 10 C, rain, mist, heavy haze, and grey. Lots of grey. Grey like stereotype London but without the benefit of cream tea.

My measuring cup


Truly depressing.

You what's not depressing about fall? Autumnal produce. Like the apples and pears of the last post, and persimmons. The persimmon is an odd fruit and with its tomato like appearance; if you don't know what it is you might not know it's a fruit. And yes I know that technically tomatoes are fruit but technically eggplants are berries so if you really want to go there... To this day the best way I've ever had persimmons is the fried persimmon cake thing on a stick Lauren and I gobbled in Xi'An (which we once tried and failed to create). Since they're so inexpensive here I decided to see what else they could do.; adding them to rice pudding seemed like a great idea in this weather.


As much as I appreciate borrowing my neighbor's mini oven I do still long for the full kitchen I had in DC. I miss the little things as well as the big ones. Like measuring cups. Not that I couldn't find some here I'm sure; I'm just lazy really. My measuring cup is a coffee mug. I figure if I go on the assumption that the mug is 8 ounces and "measure" everything else accordingly I should be in the ballpark. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn't.

Rice pudding is such a nice dreary day food and when eaten for breakfast gives you a warm glow for the rest of the day. Adding persimmon brings it to the next level.

2 very ripe, medium persimmons

1/2 Cup dried cranberries

2/3 Cup rice
3 1/2 Cup milk
1/4 Cup honey
1 1/2 Tsp orange zest
3 Tbs sugar
Cinnamon to taste
Nutmeg to taste

  1. Cut off the pointed end of the persimmons and scoop out the fruit's pulp. Way easier than peeling and chopping. Blend the pulp and set aside 2/3 Cup for later. 
  2. Combine rice, milk, honey, zest, sugar, salt, and spices and cook over medium heat, stirring really super often, until it comes to a simmer. Lower the heat and stir often until the mixture thickens; about 40 minutes. Maybe grab a book to read while you're stirring.
  3. Once thickened, stir in the cranberries and let cook about 5 minutes or until the dried fruit has softened.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in the persimmon pulp, and let cool a bit.
  5. Dive in!

03 November 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - A Brief Sabbatical

I'm sick. It's depressing. Largely because I can't taste wine well enough to drink it. Not that that's stopped me in the past given that my mom's answer to an upper respiratory infection when we were kids was a Seven-Seven which I'm glad I couldn't actually taste because ick. But since this is supposed to be a wine review I thought it pretty useless to drink the wine if I couldn't really taste it. I was so looking forward to trying the Suvla Merlot!

I could write up a tea review since that's what I've been knocking back all week (Lipton Yellow Label baby!) but that's not terribly exciting. Although I did make chai today (with an assist from spices bought at the grocery store in Nairobi).

Since I leave on Thursday for a couple weeks that means there won't be a review next week either. I'll be trading in wine for cider while I'm in the UK! Lots and lots of cider. I'll be back on the 24 and we'll tackle the Suvla Merlot!

31 October 2014

A Walk Amonst the Dead

I wanted to do a kind of spooky post today in honor of Halloween and thought a recent photo and grave rubbing expedition to Eyup Cemetery would fit the bill. Until I started reading about Ottoman cemeteries.

Clockwise from top: fez, Sufi hat, fez, & turban

An Ottoman graveyard was created in such a way that it was to be a garden where people could wander peacefully without morbid thoughts. Morbid or peaceful doesn't matter to me; I love me a graveyard. There's an old one near where I grew up and when we were kids my sister, brother, and I would bike to it often. Somewhat creepily it does lie right next to what is now a fairly popular campground. The majority of the graves are old, 19th century, and we'd often speculate as to how people died. Especially when an entire family died within a year of each other.

I suppose there is a kind of peace to that cemetery; if a bit of a spooky one. With people that long dead there are few, if any, family members to tend to graves and nature is beginning to reclaim the land. The cemetery in Eyup is facing similar problems despite new burials every year. But even with knocked down headstones, broken steps, and overgrown underbrush it maintains the charms it must have once had. The old stones are carved with Ottoman Turkish but even if you cannot read the script, the decorations give some indication as to the person beneath; sex, rank, and even the number of children someone may have had are recorded on the stone. For example: the size of a turban* reflected a gentleman's status; fezes mark pashas or public servants, a particular kind of hat indicates someone belonging to the Sufi order, and women's graves are carved with flowers; one for each child.

Wandering through the cemetery to the famous Pierre Loti cafe at the top of the hill isn't the only way to find peace in Eyup. This small area of Istanbul is, despite if having been left outside the city walls, one of the most religiously important places for Turkish and non Turkish Muslims. Mehmet the Conqueror contracted the (original) mosque built here in honor of his standard bearer Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (aka Eyup Sultan), close companion to the Prophet Muhammad. Prominent Ottomans wanted graves close to his tomb and mosque and thus was the cemetery created.

Eyup is a charming bastion of quiet away from the bustle and hustling of Sultanahmet and I like to come here from time to time to enjoy the city from afar. The mosque is currently undergoing renovation but that doesn't detract from the peacefulness of the village square, the cemetery, or the amazing view from the Pierre Loti cafe. And if you're not into cemeteries like I am; or you just don't want to walk up; there's always the cable car!

Eyup Sultan Camii

Eyup Sultan Camii
So be it spooky or not...Happy Halloween!

*No gravestones after the 1829 ban feature turbans.

29 October 2014

In and Around Nairobi

My trip to Kenya wasn't just about safaris and animal conservation; I also took in some of the sights and activities in Nairobi. 

On my first afternoon after we'd all had a nap (necessitated by my 3:45 AM arrival) we went grocery shopping. Which is a lot more fun than one might expect; foreign grocery stores are always a delight. And leave it to Kenya to have shops packed full of British goods. I stocked up on shortbread cookies. I stocked up on a few other things as well, everything being cheaper there than it is here in Istanbul.


Including alcohol! In addition to the cookies and a handful of other things I also picked up a bottle of nice, imported South American red and a bottle of Skyy passion fruit vodka. Don't make fun of my vodka choices. On top of that I bought several spices. Ironic, no? that I live in a city famed for its spice markets and stores but I'm going nuts in a Nairobi grocery store over its stock. Yes Istanbul is chock-a-block full of spices...but they're all the same ones. The variety available is really limited but thanks to Kenya's large Indian population, spices in Kenyan grocery stores are off the hook. I stocked up. I also got a couple boxes of powdered coconut milk and cream. I haven't tried them yet (I'm waiting until next month when I'll get my hands on some Thai red curry paste) but they were worlds cheaper than the overpriced coconut milk here.


After grocery shopping we went to the National Museum where we didn't actually visit the museum exhibitions but the attached snake center. Who has a snake center? Apparently the Kenya National Museum. Home to a variety of snakes, turtles, alligators, crocodiles, and a really lot of flounder... I wanted to get a snake of my own and send it to my brother-in-law who is forever posting pictures of clowns on my Facebook page. Clowns are freaking terrifying, and not just the Pennywises among them. No one is that happy unless they're crazy. Apparently my b-i-l's only kryptonite is live snakes. Sending a snake from Kenya being too difficult; I continue to plot my vengeance.

Pedestrians cross willy nilly

I really had no idea what to expect of Nairobi. It was almost comforting to discover that it's a big city like any other big city: big, dirty, loud, construction, and traffic. Oh the traffic. With a population of a little over 3 million one expects traffic, but I did not expect traffic to be worse than it is in my 20 million populated city. Istanbul traffic is offset by good public transportation (there are some people who would argue the "good" there but have you experienced Metro in DC?) but there is almost no public transportation in Nairobi. The most they have are mini buses and vans, like the Turkish dolmus, but these are privately owned and as far as I was able to discover, unregulated. 

The road to Samburu

Traffic flow problems are not helped by what seems to be an utter lack of road rules and by the arbitrary roadblocks police set up. These are not to control traffic but to pull over people for real or manufactured infractions during which police shake down drivers for bribes. My friends told me this happens to them regularly and it happened twice while I was there; once in the safari van on the way to Samburu and once on my way into the airport as I was leaving. The last at least gave me a chance to admire the plains zebras who were calmly grazing in the median.

Nairobi wasn't all grocery shopping though...there was lots of other shopping to do! If you're in Nairobi, or just want something pretty (you can buy them elsewhere) go to the Kazuri Bead Factory. There they hand make and paint beads of all kinds which are then turned into jewelry or sold loose by the gram. I was particularly interested in the factory as it largely employs single mothers. There are a number of male employees as well who, they joke, are given the crap jobs (really they make all the ceramic plates, mugs, etc) but who are largely responsible for looking after the kilns. Because Nairobi is already hot enough the kilns are only fired at night and they have to be monitored constantly.

My friends also took me to glass blowing factories. I'm also a sucker for hand blown glass; I always sit to watch the demonstrations at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Apparently the two most well-known glass factories were either one or at least worked in consort but there was a falling out and now they're separate entities; so separate that they've built a tall fence between them.

Sold by the meter

Best I can tell, we visited first the Anselm factory where I was enchanted by the cafe garden with its glass furniture and what must be insanely heavy hanging decorations. Prices for these beauties are really super reasonable too. Shipping is where you're going to have trouble. If you're lucky enough to work in Nairobi for a company that ships your things though you could make a nice little side business taking orders for people.

The grounds around the factory and showroom were really charming. I was imaging it as the setting for a Rapunzel/Hobbit crossover. Which might be something interesting to explore. Merry and Pippin were single if I recall correctly and Rapunzel did have twins...

That bird is real. And scary.

After Anselm we visited the neighboring Kitengela factory where these giant, scary birds roamed among the factory's art.

If I thought Anselm had the better grounds, Kitengela won the showroom contest. I did end up buying things from both places; a set of glasses from Anselm which had the better glassware, and a wind chime from Kitengela which had more art and novelties.

Kitengela also has several guest houses you can rent and a lovely infinity pool that overlooks Nairobi's very own safari park.

Thanks to my excellent friends I was finally able to check off one of my biggest life bucket list items: an African safari. It was an amazing adventure, one I'll never forget, and I could not have ask for better people to share it with. Thank you E&M!