31 October 2013

Eggplant Magic

Happy Halloween! This post has nothing to do with Halloween what so ever but I figured I couldn't let it pass unmentioned.

One of my favorite restaurants in Istanbul is Faros (which is also a hotel). Like every other restaurant in Sultanahmet, Faros has a wide range of kebabs. However unlike all the other kabab houses, Faros has a few more interesting dishes. Like the Harem Special which is pan fried lamb and walnuts in pomegranate sauce and the Hurrem Special which is similar, but almonds instead of walnuts and dried apricots and prunes. Dude. I also recently discovered a to die for appetizer there involving eggplant and goat cheese.

One of my complaints about Istanbul is that, as an American who's lived in a fairly international city for 10 years, I'm spoiled by access to virtually any food product I could want. There are a great many things available here in Istanbul but I live in a small neighborhood and my small market carries basics. In my world, goat cheese is a basic. My market disagrees.

My previous access to goat cheese here has been when I have dinner at a friend's. She lives in a much classier neighborhood than I do and has easy access to a Carrefour. The first time I ordered this appetizer at Faros I thought I'd died and gone to Goat Cheese Nirvana. When I had it a second time I realized that the weeks between had been a sad limbo-like existence. It was while visiting a friend of mine, who works in one of the spice shops near Gulhane, that I thought to ask if I could buy goat cheese (keçi peynir) at the Spice Bazaar. Why I didn't think about this nine months ago when I moved here.

Not only did I find a dealer for my goat cheese need, I also found a dish that stands up against the mediocrity that is Turkish wine AND added a fourth dish to my collection of food I can make without an oven! Unfortunately I used all the tomatoes I bought and am too lazy to go back to the market today, otherwise I'd make it again. But I have to go out tomorrow anyway so I will definitely be stopping for some then!

What you need:
  • 1 medium to large eggplant
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • crap tons of garlic
  • goat cheese, preferably a semi hard
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • Italiany spices
  1. Peel a few bulbs of garlic. If they're tiny put them in the pan whole, otherwise just slice them. Add about 1/3 of the garlic to the pan and put the rest aside. Add 1-2 Tbls olive oil to the pan and set aside.
  2. Chop the ends of the eggplant then cut in half the short way. You don't have to completely peel the eggplant but I peeled two sides so it would lie flat in the pan and cook more quickly. Slice the two halves the long way into 4-5 sections.
  3. Heat the oil then lay eggplant slices in the pan. I used an herb blend from my spice guy that basically smells like Italy (the herb blend, not my spice guy). So whatever you think smells like Italy (garlic, oregano, etc) is what you should sprinkle on the eggplant.
  4. While the eggplant is cooking, dice in larger chunks, the tomatoes and slice the goat cheese.
  5. Turn eggplant, herb the cooked side, and cook the other side.
  6. I suffer from one pan syndrome so I took out the eggplant slices and set them aside. If you're fancy and you have two pans you can skip this step and cook the tomatoes while the eggplant is cooking. Add a little more olive oil, remaining garlic, diced tomatoes, and salt to the pans. 
  7. When the tomatoes are about done, lay the eggplant slices on top and lay over those the goat cheese slices.
  8. Cover pan until it looks like the goat cheese has softened.
  9. Plate, pair with red wine, and enjoy eggplant magic!
As an appetizer this should make enough for like four people. As my entire dinner though I ate it all and then wanted more. Seriously, it's like Nirvana. Try is and dare to disagree!

22 October 2013

Kariye Muzesi - St. Saivour in Chora

With so many recent visitors I've been to many of Istanbul's museums and mosques multiple times over the last few weeks. I was especially happy to visit again the Kariye Museum, or St. Saviour in Chora Church. Before KMac and I went to the Gelati Monastery in Georgia I'd have said that this was the most impressive church of its age. However at least this time I remembered my super wide lens!

Chora is actually quite close to where I live but I had no idea how to get there via public transportation so KMac and I took a cab. Leaving the cab drivers who hang out there obviously didn't want a fare because they were trying to tell me that it would take like 90 minutes to get to Sirkeci. Likely it would have done if they'd gone straight through the city rather than along the Bosphorus road. So KMac and I wandered down the hill the church is on in the general direction of where I my memory (from three years ago) told me the road should be. Poor KMac, I made her walk quite a bit longer than I originally thought we would...but I did get us to the road eventually!

The Parekklesion

Inside this dome of the Parekklesion is the Virgin and Child with attendant angels.
The Parekklesion

Towards the top of the picture, the thing that looks like an extremely well attended last Supper, is actually the Day of Judgement. To our left of the central Christ figure is the Theotokis (Greek for 'bearer of God') or the Virgin who was the 'supreme intercessor' for Byzantine Christians who felt that they could not appeal directly to God; that He could be more easily reached through holy people/figures who could more easily reach Him. While Mary being the supreme intercessor is still true for Catholic and Orthodox Christians at least, I was surprised to learn that the second most important intercessor for the Byzantines was John the Baptist, whom we see to the right of Christ. In this depiction, Mary, John, and the hosts of angels and saints behind Christ are pleading for mercy on behalf of people.

Still the Parekklesion

The walls of the Parekklesion depict a number of life sized martyrs and warrior saints.

The Parekklesion again

In the apse is a depiction of the Anastasis (Greek for Resurrection). Here Christ is standing on the crushed gates of Hell and pulling Adam to our left and Eve to our right from their graves. Behind Adam and Eve are groups of the Righteous, including John the Baptist and Abel. Above Christ in the center of the partial dome is the Archangel Michael.

The six figures below are life sized depictions of important patriarchs and bishops of the time.

Guess where? That's right the Parekklesion
The inner narthex
In the center dome of the inner narthex (top of the pic) is the genealogy of Christ including: Adam, Seth, Noah, Cainan, Maleleel, Jared, Lamech, Sem, Heber, Saruch, Nachor, Thara, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Phalec, Ragau, Methuselah, Enoch, Enos, and Abel. Below them are the 12 sons of Jacob, two sons of Judah, and the son of Pharez. 

On the wall (right of pic) are the Chalkite Christ and the Virgin who is offering up a sorrowful prayer or humanitys sins.

This area of the church portrays various depictions of the life of the Virgin...which are sadly not so easily seen in my picture.

Long shot of the inner narthex

This dome in the inner narthex of the church features a Virgin and Christ Child (I lose count of how many there are throughout the church) in the center surrounded by the genealogy of Mary. It's hard to see in this picture but there are two rows of 16 in the dome, the larger, longer ones visible and smaller ones below those above the windows. In the top row are the 16 kings of the House of David: David, Solomon, Roboam, Abia, Asa, Josaphat, Joram, Ozzias, Joatham, Achaz, Ezekias, Manasses, Amon, Josias, Jechonias, and Salathiel. The lower ring includes: Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, Daniel, Joshua, Moses, Aaron, Hur, Samuel, Job, and Melchizedek.

The lesson here: Bible people had kick ass names.

Technically this is the entrance to the church but it's actually the exit to the museum. So the first thing you're supposed to see, the Christ Pantocrator, is actually the last thing.

In other areas of the church, of which I did not this time take pictures, are depictions of the ministry of Christ including the miracles of changing water to wine, the raising of Lazarus, curing of the leper, and more.

Because it's a bit off the beaten track I get the feeling that the Chora Church is under visited, which is a huge shame. The church has a rich history going back to 536 (although much of the church, mosaics, and frescos are much newer) and has survived Turkey's turbulent past. It's also far ore intact than the lauded Hagia Sofia which, while madly impressive, cannot hold a candle to the much smaller Chora Church.

Since, through some experimentation and more walking around in the wrong direction a few times, I finally figured out how to get here via public transportation (sorry KMac and mom), it's likely I'll go back more often. Especially since I bought the large, glossy photograph, lots of information (where I got most of mine) official museum guide as it was 50% off! Now I'll know what I'm looking at!

21 October 2013

Georgian Wines - I Love You

Our hosts in Georgia signed us up for a company field trip with a bunch of great folks to visit a winery in Signagi. Part of our trip was a stop to the vineyard to help harvest grapes. Equipped with Swiss army knives and scissors KMac and I dived in.

Way more fun that harvesting blueberries. That was the thing we all did in the summer where I grew up. I did it once, for like half a day. Not fun. All the grapes we collected would accompany us to the winery we were visiting for stomping and processing.

Lunch was served in the vineyard. There was so much good food. Maybe it's good I don't like in Georgia. I can't even imagine how much I'd weigh if I were eating pork shashlik (pooork!!!!!), some sort of eggplant in yogurt awesomeness, cheeses, potatos, bread, and whatever else was on the table every day.

We drank wine from our host winery out of traditional clay bowls. They did not so much help with making the wine taste good...

After leaving the vineyard we drove the rest of the way to Signagi to the Pheasant's Tears winery. Georgia has a long, long history of producing wine and you can really make an amazing vacation exploring its wine country. Our only stop of this brief trip was Pheasant's Tears in Signagi but if you want you could spend a couple weeks visiting more. And it would be worth it because Georgian wine is a-freaking-mazing.

At Pheasant's Tears the grapes were thrown in a big trough and everyone of the trip took turns stomping the crap out of the grapes. The juice and pulp were collected and taken down to their cellar. Traditional Georgian wine is aged, not in oak or steel, but in large clay vats that are buried in the ground. So that's where we poured the grape juice.

The vat

We would head back to the winery later for a traditional supra but in the meantime KMac and I did a little exploring of the small town. Charming.

After a bit of exploring and a small rest we returned to Pheasant's Tears for a wine tasting and supra.

The garden at Pheasant's Tears

I cannot now recall how many of their wines we tried, six? Seven? The overwhelming favorite at our table was the very first, the Tsolikauri. I ended up buying three of those (one as a gift for our hosts and one went to my neighbor who was looking after my Sherlock).

Table favorite.
And now I wax poetic on Georgian wines...while more and more distributors in the States are carrying them (notably the liquor store next to Cork on 14th and a place in Georgetown where you can even get Pheasant's Tears) they are still pretty rare finds. Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world and is likely even the birthplace of what we know to be wine today. Jennifer Walker wrote a good article about Georgian wines for The Culturist. While I'm more of a red than white person, my experiences with Georgian wines to date has me preferring their whites...but even more than that...the green.

In addition to the bottles that we bought in Signagi, KMac and I also bought some wines chosen at random in a Tbilisi shop. I ended up drinking all three of them this past week with a visiting friend who is my Georgian go-to expert. Our overwhelming favorite was the green. Yes, green. Apparently a green wine doesn't mean young, it means it's made out of Rkatsteli and Mtsvani grapes, which both translate as ‘green'.  I've been running around a lot lately and could really use a break but I'd jump back on a plane to Tbilisi in a heart beat to buy more of it!

Cheers again!

And of course we all had glasses of cha cha, the Georgian version of grappa. Eh. I'm not generally a grappa fan. It's better than ouzo or raki for sure since it's made from grapes (from the leavings of grapes gathered from other wineries actually) and doesn't have the awful anise taste of ouzo and raki...but still. Eh.

After the tasting we moved into the winery's restaurant for a supra. A supra is a traditional Georgian feast. An important part of Georgian culture, supras are held for both festive occasions, and after funerals. The owner, John, served as the Tamada, or toastmaster. According to wikipedia " A successful Tamada must possess great rhetorical skill and be able to consume a large amount of alcohol without showing signs of drunkenness." Which is true as a supra goes on until the last guest departs and toasts are said as long as guests are there.

There was so much amazing food. I love Georgian food. Love, love, love. I could not even keep count of how many open wine bottles made their way to the table during the evening. We were also especially honored to have Zadashe perform for us throughout the evening. Zadashe is a Georgian group that performs traditional dancing and polyphonic music. They were fantastic. KMac and I also bought two of their CDs.

We were some of the last to leave the supra that night. I wish I could have held out longer but we were so tired!

The next day we visited a nearby monastery and church where Saint Nino, possibly the most important saint in Georgian Orthodoxy, is buried. Saint Nino is credited with bringing Christianity to Georgia.

Georgia I miss you already! Have I mentioned that I am currently unemployed? If anyone in Georgia wants to hire me...!

12 October 2013

Return to Tbilisi with a Stopover in Mtskheta

Just shy of two years after my first trip to Tbilisi I was happy to being visiting again, in much better weather this time too! We started out morning with breakfast in a kitchen that was almost literally the size of my entire two-bedroom, bath and a half apartment. Swoon! Multiple ovens! Multiple refrigerators! Wrap around counters! An island!!!

Sorry, this is supposed to be about Tbilisi, not my kitchen jealousy! After breakfast we decided, at the urging of our host, to first visit the Jvari Monastery and Mtskheta, the old capital of Georgia. I was quiet glad we listened to her as, not only was the monastery lovely, the view of Mtskheta from it was stunning.

View of Mtskheta from Jvari

Somewhat surprisingly for me, while editing my pictures I refrained from using any of the color effects I normally like to use. And of the hundreds of pictures I took this week, I converted only two to black and white. This first one, one of the out buildings of Jvari, just seemed to want to be black and white.

In Mtskheta, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, we visited another church (sensing a theme to our vacation?!), the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, one of the most important churches in Georgian Orthodoxy. The current church was built in the 11th century but the site and the legends surrounding it date back to the 4th century and the church is know for being the burial site of the Christ's mantel (the one for which 'they drew lots').

This side chapel is done in the Russian Orthodox style.

The church was the place where Georgian kings were crowned and many of the royals of history are buried here. The greater church also houses a small copy of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher which you can kind of see through the far right arch below.

Where the mantel is buried

Icon of the Trinity inviting the viewer to table

We left Mtskheta for the new capitol, Tbilisi. I had our driver drop us off near the top of the main street through the city so KMac and I could spend the afternoon walking and exploring the old city. I mostly remembered my way around...although I think KMac would argue with that. We wandered around looking for old city which I was sure was across the bridge. Confused by our guidebook (there just are not good guidebooks for Georgia!) we decided to cross one of the bridges and take a cable car up to a ruined fort and see the Mother of Georgia statue.

It seemed like a great idea until we got on the cable car! I'd just been on one not a month earlier when I went to Eyup so I didn't think anything of this one; but it was somewhat terrifying. Not only was it one of those awful types that doesn't actually stop so you have to hop in and out of it while it's in motion, but it also abruptly sped up as soon as it left the platform.  The view of Tbilisi from above was fantastic and kind of made the ride worth it.

Or so we thought while we were up there. Luckily we managed to get a car to ourselves for the ride down and prayed a string of Hail Marys until we got off. We both (I think anyway, I know I did though!) had our eyes closed for the ride and you could tell when one of us peeked because the tone of the prayer would go up a few octatves!

While we were up top, after snapping a few pictures, I surveyed the view, especially the area on the other side of the bridge, looking for old city. KMac pointed out where it was in the guidebook and on the city map we had, both of which indicated that old city was basically the are from which we'd just come. I vehemently insisted that the guides were WRONG because I had been there before and I KNEW old city was on the other side of the bridge. I was insistent!

*Throat clearing* Turns out the guidebook and map were correct and I was a wee bit mistaken. What I was remembering as old city Tbilisi...was actually old city Skopje. Honest mistake! Both places I visited in the winter when things were cold, wet, snowy, and grey. Seriously, anyone could have made the same mistake :p