24 February 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Terra Narince & How Food Almost Killed Me

Turkey has a lot of great food. But you really can only eat bread and meat for so long. Luckily I have found fantastic places for Thai, Korean, burgers, and even pulled pork. What I haven't found is decent Chinese. Not that there's not Chinese food in abundance here, because there is. But every time I've tried it hasn't gone well. So when a friend posted on Facebook that she made a fiery pepper chicken similar to the dried pepper chicken at DC's fabulous Szechuan Pavillion, I had to try to make it.

The recipe is actually pretty easy and I only had to make a couple substitutions; for example corn starch I couldn't find and I'm not even sure I could find Chinese cooking wine in DC let alone here. Substituting for that impossible to find wine was the wine we're reviewing this week: Terra's Narince.

The Narince (a varietal) has an interesting pale straw color with hints of green. The nose is sweet (-er than the flavor as it turned out) and floral. The hints of green are echoed in the flavor with a little green apple. There's also oak (the Narince grape being Chardonnay adjacent) but not overwhelmingly so. It's more dry than not and there was a fascinating taste of walnut on the back of the tongue. A really nice, drinkable, stand by white wine. Too drinkable as it turned out.

I blame the fiery chicken. If a recipe tells you that you need TWO CUPS chopped dried red peppers, TWO green chillies, and TWO tablespoons peppercorns...don't believe it. But DO believe it when it tells you to just give everything a good stir and you're done.

I faithfully chopped lots and lots of peppers and remembered to remove seeds and not touch myself until I'd washed my hands thoroughly, twice. I also seasoned the chicken coating mix (recipes never call for this but you should do it anyway).

Got the chicken frying in the oil until it was golden and slightly crispy then set aside and went to work on the garlic and green onions. Also when the recipe says "add all the hot stuff and fry for 20 SECONDS" also follow that. I let it all sizzle together for quite a while. I was all: "20 seconds? What good is that going to do? That's just silly. Obviously I know better." This would later bite me in the ass.

So after way too long I put the chicken back in the mix and let that sizzle merrily for also far too long. I didn't know that yet. After I dished it up and sat down to see how the Narince did with spicy chicken (far too well) I was really missing my chopsticks. It would have made picking around the peppers and peppercorns far easier. Then I went in for my first bite.

Everything was cool right up to that point. My vision went black and I was sure the fire in my mouth was going to consume me entirely. I think I actually stopped breathing. I've been residually tear gassed by the charming Turkish police here in Istanbul and eating this is what that felt like.

This is why the wine slipped down far too easily. It helped cool the fire inside my scorched mouth. And despite the fact that I'd burned off all my taste buds, the wine still tasted pretty good. So I guess the website that recommended pairing Narince wine with spicy chicken wasn't wrong. I was literally in tears. And I use 'literally' correctly here. I was crying, there were tears streaming down my face, and the friends with whom I was Skyping at the time were expressing varying amounts of sympathy and hilarity.

So lesson learned I suppose. Don't mess around with timing when peppers are involved. Also don't use an entire bottle of wine to quench the fire because it can make for an uncomfortable morning after. Good thing I'm unemployed and there was no where I had to be!

Recipe from All Recipes.com

19 February 2014

Being a Legal Yabangee in Turkey

Blog posts are sooo much easier to write than papers on whether Kant would prefer Rousseau or Marx as an Enlightened figure. Which is why I'm drafting this and continuing to develop my already brilliant procrastination skills instead of proving that the correct answer is Rousseau. Which I really  only "know" because my brilliant and learned friend, Jillian, Doctor of Philosophy, told me so.

In this week's wine review, I mentioned that I renewed my residence permit. This actually seems much easier than getting it in the first place, which I suppose makes sense. It could also be that I had barely arrived in Turkey and spoke no Turkish at all when I got my original permit so the process seemed super complicated (even though I paid someone else to do it for me...). Renewal is actually pretty easy though:

First you have to make an appointment at your local police station. This can be done online and the website even offers an English option. Theoretically your ikamet (permit) is valid for up to eight days after expiration and as long as you can show you have an appointment (even if it's after expiration) you should be ok. But it's best to start trying to make an appointment 2-3 weeks before expiration.  But there is a pretty pricey penalty if you go too far over so careful.

The appointment website tells you almost everything that you need to bring with you:
  • The form that you fill out on line (as part of making the appointment)
  • 4 passport pictures
  • an exchange slip in your name showing you have exchanged $300 per month you're applying to live in the country (ie $3600 for a year); or a Turkish bank statement showing the same amount
  • a copy of your passport id/expiration page
  • a copy of your passport showing the last Turkey entry stamp
  • your actual passport AND
  • (what they don't tell you) copies of the first 6-7 pages of your ikamet.
If you forget to copy anything, no worries. There's a shop across the street from the police station that does copies.

My appointment happened to be on Valentine's Day which gets more attention here than Christmas. Walking along Istiklal Caddessi I saw hearts and red, pink, and white balloons stung up everywhere. At the top of my street there were giant snowglobes you could enter and have your picture taken in. It would have been fun to get a few pictures of all the hoopla but I'd left my camera at home and didn't care enough to walk back up five flights of stairs.

Once you get to the police station (which is not where the address on the website would have you think it is...walking down Istiklal towards Taksim, hang a left at IST CAFE and it's down the block on your left), you do not have to take a number and wait around with everyone else. I did that before I wised up. Just walk into the office and find someone free sitting in the 'Yabangeeler Buro' section. I was both surprised and happily pleased to discover that they all spoke at least some English and were all really pretty friendly.

About the money...it's kind of an open secret that you can go to just about any of the exchange places, let them know you need that exchange slip, give them 50-100 TL, and it's done. No need to actually exchange the money. I had to get a bank account to pay my rent anyway so I figured I'd just give them that statement. I should have known better than to assume a statement printed from the website would be enough. So I had to go back to my bank (take a number, wait forever even though there were very few people in there) and get the right paper. Helpfully though, the guy at the police station helping me wrote down, in Turkish, exactly what I needed so all I had to do was hand it over the the bank teller.

Annoyingly you cannot pay for your new ikamet at the police station. You have to pay for it at the tax office which is exactly at the other end of Istiklal near the Sisane metro station. Istiklal Caddessi is the bane of my Turkish existence (well that and the stairs in my apt). Apparently you also have to have a tax id to make the payment. If you don't have one, just make sure to bring along an extra photocopy of your passport and you can get one before you make the payment. True to all Turkish paperwork, making a simple payment is complicated by the three different lines you have to stand in. In the first line, the guy looks over your ikamet application paperwork and generates an invoice. The second line, the guy takes your invoice, generates completely identical copies of it, and passes it to the cashier who is line number three where you actually pay.

With all these new papers in had I returned to the police station, handed over everything, and in theory I can pick up my new permit next Friday! And for all the running around and not knowing what I was doing, the process only took about 2.5 hours...which I think is a wine.

I had to grocery shop so I stopped at Carrefour on the way home. To my utter delight all wine was 25% off! And since my Valentines plans pretty much included drinking and eating chocolate that worked out quite well for me :)

17 February 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Pamukkale Anfora Öküzgözü-Boğazkere

It's funny how paperwork and bureaucracy make one feel like an adult. I'm 34 (yeesh), have been a professional (a professional what though I don't know) for 10+ years, and live abroad but I don't really feel any older or more adult than I did when I was 21, at university, and still living with my parents. Usually anyway. Last week though was one of those moments when I was reminded that I am indeed a fully functional, capable adult.

At my old apartment I just walked down to the management office every month, had a cup of tea, practiced my Turkish, and handed over a wad of cash for my rent. However my new landlord insists on bank transfers. It's more money than it's worth to transfer rent from my US bank account every month so I needed a Turkish account. That required a trip to the tax office to procure a tax id (a requirement here) and then a trip to a Turkish bank to open an account. No one ever speaks English, which, fair enough really. But it meant that I Google translated a lot of words, like bank account (banka hesabı) and money deposit (para yatırmak). These two tasks were actually accomplished with far less difficulty that I was lead to believe. Even in stumbling Turkish.

Now that I live very near a vet I'm also finally getting my Sherlock seen to. Cat vaccinations here are different than they are in the US and require a series of shots over five weeks. Thursday was our second visit to the vet. Sherlock is, understandably, not thrilled with these trips but I imagine it's less being handled by strangers, having a thermometer stuck up her bum, and the needles that she finds traumatizing and more the actual trip to and from. I know I find the trips traumatizing. First I have to carry her veerryy carefully down five flights of circular, marble stairs, then the couple blocks up and down steep hills to the vet...and then back again. I just pray that the day I inevitably fall down the stairs or bite it on a hill is not a day I've got her with me.

You can see how excited she is by the vet visits

And finally this week I visited the foreigner (yabangee)  affairs office of the local police station in order to change my address on my residence permit. But that kind of deserves it's own post, so more on that later.

So to go along with all these feelings of adulthood, there was a lot of wine this week. The one we're reviewing though is another Pamukkale. In addition to the Trio I talked about last week, Pamukkale also produces pure varietals. I really like the Pamukkale Kalecik Karasi but my Carrefour doesn't carry it. So I tried the Öküzgözü-Boğazkere which is a really interesting wine. I'll talk about another Öküzgözü-Boğazkere next week probably (I drink more than one bottle a week so there's a bit of a queue) but I want to address this one first.

Öküzgözü-Boğazkere is a actually a blend f the two varietals of those names. The nose on this was really beautiful with hints of fig and I think vanilla. The first half glass, before the wine opened up, were like...wow. I was getting tanins, tanins, and more tanins. A lot of people don't like tanins but I'm kind of a sucker for them. I really like the way they coat the tongue and pucker the mouth. And this wine was giving me a lot of that. So much so that I couldn't determine what it actually tasted like!

On day two it was completely opened and had softened a great deal. I was no longer getting any of the tanin effect. But for the life of me I still could not figure out what it tasted like! I mean, usually I can give at least one or two of the more obvious descriptors: berry, pepper, oak, straw, whatever but this...no idea. Not one single clue what this wine tastes like.

And yet for all that...I enjoyed it rather a lot. It's bound to become one of my go-to reds here.

10 February 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Pamukale Trio (red)

Friday night I had over a group of friends to help christen my new apartment. And five bottles of wine later, christen it the four of us did indeed do! My poor Sherlock who, under the best of circumstances doesn't like new people, did her best to hide all evening; thwarted by one or the other of us dragging her out of her hiding place to try to pet and admire her. I paid for that later.

One of the wines we had was the red Pamukale Trio - a blend of Shiraz, Kalecik Karasi, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Trio had a surprisingly spicy nose for a wine that turned out to be really quite soft. I suppose the spice and pepper on the nose came from the Cab Sauv in the mix but the medium light tanins and cherry/berry flavor seems to be the result of a good blending of the three varietals. Light on the tongue, the Trio was drinkable right out of the bottle and didn't need to breathe much at all. I'm not sure at which point we opened this bottle but it must have been later on in the evening as my notes read: "more drinky than food go withy".

Although let's face it, I'd probably say something like while cold sober.

Somewhere around midnight we realized that I no longer had water. None of the taps were working nor would the toilet flush. Luckily I was not so far gone as to remember that midnight isn't the most appropriate time to call one's landlords. Luckily I still had plenty of drinking water though since here in Turkey we don't drink the tap water. Rather I haul five litre bottles of water up five flights of stairs multiple times a week. I was glad for that on Friday!

I finally went to bed around 1:30 AM. Or tried to anyway. Sherlock, no longer held back by her people disliking shyness, spent several hours quite literally bouncing off the walls. For a reason I cannot quite understand, there is a fully functional door separating my bedroom from the main apartment living space. Which, to me, makes little sense since there's only a half wall separating the two rooms. Off of that did Sherlock launch herself onto my bed, only to leap off the bed, run out through the door, then repeat the entire process. Add to that the fact that she's in heat again this week - so all this bounding about was accompanied by crying and yowling.

I managed to doze off a bit for a little while before both she and a burgeoning red wine hangover migraine woke me up so I stumbled out of bed to get drugs and an ice pack. With Sherlock weaving between my feet trying to trip and kill me the entire time. The fact that I got up once must have been a sign to my little monster that it was play time because her bounding and crying redoubled. The night wasn't over with that. Shortly after the first call to prayer, for which I was awake, the most horrible, loud gurgling noise erupted in the apartment which sent Sherlock into a freaked out tizzy. Happily it was the water coming back on. Less happily the noise went on for some time during which Sherlock would only stop jumping on my head and crying if I were sitting up holding her. And therefore not seeping.

Sometime after dawn I was able to finally get a little sleep since,as the sun goes up my cat goes to sleep.  So, while the Pamukale Trio was lovely and I will definitely buy it again; I suppose the moral of my tale is that the next time I buy it...I'll moderate my intake!

03 February 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Pamukale Senfoni

I got fired in July but have been lucky enough to do some consulting since then. My last contract expired at the end of December so I am now well and truly unemployed. Strangely my parents, especially my dad, seem far more ok with this than I expected them to be. So what do I do with my time?

Mostly I watch TV and read. But I've also signed up for some free online classes. I'm currently learning about Roman architecture and Modernism/Post-Modernism. I was hoping the Roman architecture course would help me with my photography but so far, for a class that's taught at Yale, I'm a little disappointed. The Modernism/Post-Modernism course, taught via Weslyan, is really good though. I'm also, through the urging of a friend here, volunteering at Caritas once a week.

I know, volunteering, me. I don't volunteer. I just don't like people enough to do that. Last Tuesday we had both orientation and our first day. There was time between the two and since I wanted to limit the amount of times I had to climb up my five flights of stairs, I went to a mall with my friend. There I was thrilled to discover both a Krispy Kreme (!!) and a Watson's. Watson's was my go-to for make up and such when I lived in Taiwan and I haven't seen one in years so I was, possibly, more excited than such a discovery warrented.

Sherlock is skeptical of my singing

Anywhoodle, by the time I got home that evening I didn't have the energy to even make pasta. Pretty much all I had the energy for was to open a bottle of wine. And it was at this time that this brilliant Turkish wine review idea struck me. I was so energized by this that I started singing along to the music I had playing while putting together actual dinner.

Sherlock was less than appreciative of my singing. Possibly because opera is not my forte or perhaps she's a purist and didn't appreciate the words I made up.  I don't speak French so whenever La Habanera from Bizet's Carmen is on, I mostly just 'la la la'.

For this second wine I chose Pamukale Senfoni Sultaniye. I'm more of a red wine drinker largely only because I know more about red wine. What I know about white wine wouldn't even fill a glass and basically extends to: Chardonnay  = yuck (unless not oaked), Georgian green wine = super good, and spicy food + sweet wine = almost religious experience.

Pamukale has several Senfonis: sweet, semi dry, dry. Splitting the difference I went with the semi dry...and cannot even imagine what the sweet is like. This one was a lot sweeter than I thought it would be. However that meant it paired really well with the çiğ köfte I had for dinner because çiğ köfte is delightfully spicy.

So, Pamukale semi dry Senfoni: really lovely pale straw color, went excellently with both spicy dinner and some chocolate I had later (although better with the spicy), and tasted nicer the colder it was - got a little mawkish when it went room temp. All in all it was very drinkable and I am likely to buy it again. If I recall it was also in a decent price point, costing 20-something TL at the Carrefour.

It was really actually quite drinkable which I discovered when suddenly the bottle was 2/3 finished! No idea how that happened...