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!

27 October 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla Cabernet Sauvignon

Another Monday, another Suvla. Frankly there could be many worse ways to spend a Monday!

While my favorite Suvlas have been the blends, they're not falling down on the varietals and the Cabernet Sauvignon is another fine example. I would love to show you a picture of the garnet red color of the wine which was set of by glow from inside...but I somehow managed to empty and throw away the bottle without remember to take any pictures at all. So, that was a fail on me.

In lieu of wine pictures please enjoy this snap of my Sherlock who, from the ecstatic way she was rolling around on top of the DVDs, also agrees that Joss Whedon is a genius and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best shows ever.

The Suvla Cab has all the berries and spice in both the nose and on the palate that you would expect from a good Cab but I also tasted a some unexpected sweetness in the finish. It was a little startling but not unwelcome. Possibly it was the hints of blueberry...?

Making the wine even better for me were the tannins that gave the wine a smooth, velvetyness. Light tannins to be sure; really I only marked them in the first few sips until they melded into the overall drinking experience. As I love a tannin, though I will always remark upon them.

And speaking of the overall drinking experience; Suvla's Cabernet Sauvignon is a lovely one. It went down remarkably smoothly and was very easy to drink. I have something of a love/hate relationship with Cab Sauvs as I find that they can be overwhelming if not paired with the right foods; however Suvla's paired nicely with food but was also enjoyable all on its lonesome.

I rarely find a wine maker that doesn't have at least one wine that I simply cannot drink; regardless of how much I may love the rest; I'm still waiting for that moment with Suvla. I bit the bullet and bought one of their Merlot's today so maybe next week is when the Suvla pedestal I've built falls down!

23 October 2014

Pear Apple Crisp

It's autumn! Even here in Turkey. Every year for the last 12 years that I haven't lived in Michigan I long to be home for fall. At least early fall, it does have the tendency to snow stupidly early. There were many a Halloween I'm not even sure why we bothered with costumes to Trick or Treat since they were covered with heavy winter coats, scarves, mittens, and boots. However, for the brief time it is fall in Michigan it's a glorious thing.

Fruit, nuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Glorious.

When the trees turn the colors are amazing: gold, orange, red all burning against skies so blue they almost hurt. In the country you can smell people burning their leaves, after of course you've had a good time jumping into the leaf piles. Hayrides, you-pick pumpkins, apples, pears, stopping at road-side stands for some of the best apple cider on the face of the earth (unpasteurized if you're really lucky); this is how we do in Michigan. I don't miss much about my home state but I do miss that.

Michigan is becoming more and more well known as a beer state with micro breweries are popping up all over. What a lot people don't know though, because it so rarely makes it out of the state, is that Michigan is also full of wineries and cideries. I may have made up 'cidery'. Michigan hard cider is as coveted and amazing as the soft stuff. Throw in some sugared doughnut holes from a local bakery and life is bliss.

Feeling saucy and threw in some fried cranberries

Mixing by hand

Ready for the oven!

I always feel nostalgic in fall. One of my 18 uncles owned an apple and pear orchard and he would drop off bushels of them every once in a while during the season. I had no idea what the majority of produce cost until I moved to DC where I spent a minimum of $20 a week on Honeycrisp apples; far less than a bushel of them to boot. Because we always had such a surplus, crisp was a pretty frequent dessert at home. It's a little harder to make here because I can't find oatmeal. I believe Carrefour carries steel cut oats; but they are not the same and of course the price is highway robbery. Through visiting friends and my trip home in August I've built up a supply, albeit a dwindling supply.

My last Turkish class was last week and I took the opportunity of a class potluck to make a couple crisps. Normally what I would actually do is double the batch of crisp and press some into the dish as a crust as well as put it on top. However since oatmeal is a precious commodity here I put it only on the top.


I was not ready to stop there though! Crisp on its own is a wonderful thing but I wanted to go the extra mile and make caramel to pour over the top. I found a recipe that has no need for sweet & condensed milk or Karo syrup, the former being difficult to find here and the latter impossible. Sugar, butter, and cream - ingredient-wise it couldn't be easier! Making it was a slightly different story but the promise of luscious caramel beckoned.

It's not hard per say, just time consuming because sugar takes buggering forever to melt. And who makes pots and pans with metal handles?! Because while the sugar was heating so was the pot! Eventually I had to fold up a dish towel and use it to hold onto the pot handle which then ran the danger of the cloth catching on fire from the gas flame...

Oh it was beautiful. Baking is therapy for me and making two crisps (one for class one for me!) and making the caramel was soothing. But eating it was better! I ate crisp for breakfast for days. I might keep making this until my oatmeal supply runs out.

A crisp autumn day and a warm gooey dessert go together whether your view is of the chilling Bosphorus or of colorful fall leaves.

For the Crisp:

2 each pears, Granny Smith, and red apples*
2-3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Dash of salt
Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove to taste

Peel an slice or chop all the fruit, mix in dry ingredients, and set aside for a few minutes

1/2 Cup Oatmeal
1/2 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 Cup flour
Cinnamon to taste
6 Tablespoons cold butter

  1. Preheat oven at 350F
  2. Butter an 8x8 baking dish and pour in fruit
  3. In the same bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the topping then use your fingers or a pastry cutter to blend in the butter. Once everything is incorporated, sprinkle over the top of the fruit.
  4. Bake for 40-60 minutes depending on your oven. I'd check it after 40 and let it go longer as needed. You want the crumble top to be golden/browned but obviously not burned.
*The type of apples you use will affect both the flavor and consistency of the dessert. Some apples cook mushy while others retain a crispness. The sweeter the apple you use the less sugar you need. You can also add nuts, dried dates, (dried or fresh) cranberries...go wild.

For the caramel:
1 Cup granulated sugar
8 Tablespoons butter
120 ml (1/3 Cup-ish) heavy cream

  1. Over low heat, heat the sugar, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. This is going to take forever. Just keep going. Stirring constantly is important because you really don't want this to burn. When melted it should be a nice golden brown, well...caramel color. 
  2. Add the butter and stir until it is all incorporated. Be careful with this part because adding the butter will make the melted sugar go crazy. It will splatter so watch your hands.
  3. Once butter and sugar are fully incorporated, slowly drizzle in cream which will make the mixture boil and rise.
  4. Let boil for one minute then remove from heat.
  5. Optional: add salt to taste if you want salted caramel
The caramel can be stored for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You'll probably have to reheat it before pouring over anything. Or you could just spoon gooey caramel goodness and eat it straight. I'm not saying I did that...but you could.