29 April 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla 2011 Sir

The problem with back log reviews is that they get really back logged! This has apparently been neglected as a draft for a rather embarrassing amount of months. And while a few wines may deserve that, the Suvla 2011 Sir is not one of them.

There was a period a few months back during which I'd banned myself from drinking for a few weeks...and this was the culprit. Once again I lost a bet that I could drink an entire bottle of red wine in one sitting and not regret it the next morning. Sadly I did regret it the next morning...but it was a bittersweet regret.

The 2011 Sir is a complex wine that's interesting right out of the bottle with a deep, dark red/burgundy color that did not let me down in the nose. Dark fruits, lots of berries, and depth.

And then the tannins! Oh they were beautiful. Right away on the attack the Sir acts like it lives for a good tannin the same way I do. Once I was finished swooning over the tannins I was able to pay attention to other things. Like the way the flavors burst on my tongue like a rain drop and then lingered for a nice medium finish.

And how I picked up hints of what I think was tobacco which, combined with the fruit flavors, gives the Sir a nice balance making a truly elegant wine.

The notes I took while drinking this tell me to be poetic; that I drank the entire bottle while listening to Yo-Yo Ma, and to stop making bets with myself that I can drink entire bottles of red wine and wake up hangover free. I've lost that last one a few too many times so drunk me is obviously wiser than sober me. Although it's easier to say no once temptation is gone (or more precisely after you've drunk it all).

At 88 TL per bottle (at the Suvla Shop-there's a horrifying markup everywhere else) this isn't an everyday bottle for me but I so wish it could be. Maybe I just need to set lower goals for myself so I can justify having the Sir as a reward more often. Hurrah! I learned and used a new Turkish grammatical construction! Hurrah! I did yoga everyday for a whole week! Hurrah! I got out of bed this morning!

Seriously, can I marry into the family? I grew up on a farm, I could be semi useful in viticulture. Maybe more on the drinking the end product side but still...someone's got to do that!

24 April 2015

The Gülhane B-Roll and a New Hamam Experience

My previous post about the Lale Festival pretty much covered everything I know or frankly care about tulips. But I have more pictures to share! So here's a completely unrelated hamam story.

As mentioned previously, there is no gas in my building this week. As part of the building renovation all the pipes are being replaced. Which really makes me wonder why someone went to all the trouble of repainting the stairwell walls already because now said walls and fresh paint are covered in scorch marks and drill holes. It wasn't that good of a paint job to begin with but now...

Anyway, no gas means no hot water which means no showering. I could handle it if the water came out tepid but it's fracking ice cold. And to illustrate the vagaries of an Istanbul spring...it hailed today. A couple times. So I'm not ready for ice cold showers. This is a perfect excuse to go to a hamam. Normally I go to Çemberlitaş Hamamı but last night I went with E to a place both closer to home and cheaper. It wasn't horrible but I'll stick with Çemberlitaş Hamamı.

Ağa Hamamı is a mixed hamam so the relaxing and hot stone areas are common space. Bathing suits are recommended but I believe the hamam keeps spare bikinis on hand if you don't have one. Men (wrapped in a towel) are bathed in the common area but there is a small (space for only two) side room where women are bathed in "private". Although leaving the door open is rather counterproductive. I wore my one-piece suit which was fine in the common room but the woman who bathed me stripped it off completely. And since my marble slab was the one in front of the door I really rather did want the door closed. However while it wasn't exactly as private as advertised it was a pretty good scrub.

Next, wrapped in about 3 different towels (one of which the bath attendant tied around my head making me look somewhat Bedouin) we were "invited" to relax with some apple tea in the common area/entry way. It's a lovely entry way but it is still an entryway and towels do not clothes make. I would rather have gone straight into the massage but they seemed pretty insistent that we relax first.

When we finally got to the massage...I wouldn't have minded skipping it actually. My what was supposed to be 30 minute massage felt like it was over almost as soon as it started. Which, considering it consisted largely of just having oil rubbed on me versus and actual massage and that it was on the most uncomfortable table. Which was not only uncomfortable but about four inches too short. And once again privacy did not seem to be a big priority. I had to ask that sh close the door fully because, for a hamam that really seems to like to cover you with as many towels as possible (I left the massage with three new ones) she didn't cover me with anything while I was actually on the table. And the oil they use...I'm sure it was supposed to smell floral but I was picking up essence of Hubba Bubba.

This hamam does not have a shower for post oil massage cleaning. They do allow you back in the hamam/hot stone area unlike some other hamams but it is somewhat difficult to bathe if you have to put a swim suit back on. Ağa Hamamı does not provide soap or anything either which is the one thing both E and I neglected to bring. She forgot hers and I just didn't think to bring any since my regular hamam provides things like that.

We got more towels again after our ineffectual bath.

I'm not saying Ağa Hamamı is bad. It's a pretty decent deal at 90TL (50TL sans massage) an it's great if you want to experience a hamam as a couple or family. But I'm pretty sure that I will continue to trek the 40 minute walk to Çemberlitaş Hamamı where, for 60TL extra, I get (I think) much nicer service. Plus the ladies there mostly remember me and I get to jump queues if it's busy! And I don't leave smelling like Bazooka Joe.

PS-the hyacinth at the park smelled glorious. Far far better than did the massage oil.

22 April 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Amadeus 2012 Cuvree Rouge

I suffer so that others do not have to. That's what I remind myself when I get a bottle of truly bad wine. Such was the case with the Amadeus 2012 Cuvree Rouge.

Amadeus was another new wine label to me when last I was at Comedus. At 43TL I thought that this Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blend would be a good try. I mean, how wrong can you go, selecting a wine named after one of the greatest composers who ever lived? Really super wrong apparently.

To describe the basics of the wine: oak in the nose, dark cherries, and black currant followed by a fruity flavor with medium low tannins and  long finish in no way prepares you for how horrible it was. Thick and syrupy, this was a red wine hangover waiting to happen. In point of fact it did not wait to happen. I not only refused a second glass but poured out the remains of my first. It was actually offensive.

Make a bad-tasting wine was apparently not enough for the makers of this abomination. It seems they wanted to take a leaf from the Cracker Jack book and included a surprise in the bottle. Not sediment, I think we would have been happy for some sediment. But no, we got this large sliver of, what we assumed was part of the barrel in which it was fermented. Luckily E noticed it before she swallowed.

Avoid. Much like, but really so many times worse than Mozart Kugeln, the Amadeus Cuvree Rouge is a slanderous use of a famous name. I wouldn't even recommend this to people I don't like.

21 April 2015

Lale Festivalı Gülhane Parkı

Spring is here! Sort of anyway. We have had some truly gorgeous days in the last week. Of course this week the temperature dropped 5C, it's overcast, and rainy...but Spring is undeniably here. While the weather might be a bit crap this week, everywhere you look in Istanbul you can see the proof of Spring...tulips.

The tulip is the flower in Turkey. It graces carpets, fabrics, ceramics, jewelry, building facades, fences, and of course gardens, boulevards, highways, parks, and every limited green space this city has during the months of April and May when the official Tulip Festival is on. Turkey is very proud if the tulip and while the Netherlands may lead the world in production (and possibly Kenya in the number two spot) Turkey is responsible for introducing the tulip to Europe.

In the 1500's after the tulip came to Turkey via Central Asia, Sultan Suleyman gifted the King of Holland with some tulip bulbs. After that the tulip trade exploded and bulbs could be worth more than houses. Men spent their life savings to buy just one bulb.

Luckily the price has dropped over the years. However if you don't have a green thumb and have no wish for a tulip of your very own, in Istanbul there are many places to enjoy them. One of the most accessible places is Gülhane Parkı which has its very own tram stop near touristy Sultanahmet. Tulips of nearly every shade and type are planted here in anticipation of the annual festival every April. Gülhane Parkı is also home to a lovely tea garden where you can refresh yourself while enjoying a view of the Bosphorus.


I cannot wait for Spring to decide that it's going to be here and stay here. I want to use my terrace again! Last Saturday was gorgeous here and I laid in the hammock with Sherlock and read for a few hours. Of course by the time the weather is warm enough to spend time on the roof the renovation team, which has been working since the Autumn, will probably finally get around to working on my terrace rendering it unusable for, I'm guessing, two weeks. They're replacing the building's gas pipes this week which means no hot water and no cooking. Luckily I live in a land of delivery and hamams.

It will be worth being banned from the terrace for a week or two though when they're finished. The roof is being sealed which should stop the ceiling from leaking when it rains. Drains are being put in which means the paint in the ceiling of the bathroom should stop rotting and peeling off. AND they're apparently putting down tile on the terrace so I'll have real flooring up there instead of the rough, dirty, what ever the heck is up there now. Then all I have to do is get the apartment managers/owner to agree to replace the warped and falling apart furniture and I will have a palace with view. Until next year when I'll likely have to look for a new place because I won't be able to afford this one.

Gülhane Parkı has more than just tulips! We'll have a look at those when we do the B-Roll.

15 April 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla 2014 Sauvignon Blanc

I have a hard time with Sauvignon Blancs. I feel like no two are alike which, on the one hand is fantastic because hurrah for new wines, new tastes, and new experiences!On the other, you run into more chances of wines you don't like. I've learned over the years that I just really don't like white wine all that much. Dry white wines that is. Or anything oaked. Don't even try to give me Chardonnay (unless it's steel aged!). So that makes choosing a Sav Blanc which varies from the "less ripe" pale color herby/green bell pepper flavors to "more ripe" darker yellows with summer fruit flavors. I'm all about the latter but the former I'd sooner pour down the drain. And since a great many wines are bottled in dark green glass you can't even try to gauge which end of ripeness you're going to get.

That's a long intro into why Suvla's 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is such a winner for me. I was a little hesitant, especially since Suvla's Sav Blanc is in clear glass and I could see how pale and (from my understanding of the way the scale works) likely it was to be on the "less ripe" end of the scale. So imagine my surprise and delight when I tasted it.

In the nose it was all sorts of yummy things: white peaches, nectarines, and passion fruit. On the palate it was bright and elegant and all those lovely fruits in the nose came out on the tongue as well. The flavor did not ignore the other end of the Sav Blanc flavor profile though as there was something green lurking around in there; but in a nice way...like leaves as a background to beautiful flowers.

I begin to wax poetic again but I have to say this deserves it. I hope Suvla has a good stock of this one (or lets me know when they're running out so I can stock up) as I plan to make this my go-to white. I allowed E&M a small taste, since I had already drunk most of the bottle by the time they came over, and it got enthusiastic thumbs up fro both of them as well.

This is a Winesday to celebrate-finding what for me is a rarity-an excellent white wine of I will enthusiastically be drinking a great deal. To top it off it's a really good bargain at 47TL/bottle at the Suvla Shop in Cihangir.

Going forward I think part of my wine research is going to be how to become part of the Suvla family because if that means family discount or, gasp, free wine...how do I sign up?!

08 April 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chateau Nuzu 2011

Procured at Comedus for a reasonable 43 TL, this particular Chateau Nuzu is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Öküzgözü.We actually drank some time ago, when the January weather was nicer than our current April weather. Le sigh.

Aside from the ruby red color, the tartness on the palate was the first thing we all noticed. It was really acidic giving the wine a sour flavor. With the sour yeastiness dominating, I had a hard time tasting anything else but believe I did detect some plum and cherry flavors hiding in there.

Rather extreme tartness wasn't the Chataeu Nuzu 2011's only surprise we discovered. Sediment-lots of it in fact which might explain why the wine was so sour. I'm not expert but my understanding is that sediment doesn't often appear in wines as young as a 2011 production; it's more often found in (red) wines that are eight-ten years and older.

All that aside we certainly managed to finish the bottle-no hardship really since it was accompanied by a selection of Comedus' excellent deli products including one of my new favorite things, thinly sliced, smoked Balkan meat. No idea what that really means but it is excellent.

And prosciutto. Comedus has prosciutto. Is it a wonder I go every couple weeks to stock up on wine and cold cuts?

We had some mixed reactions. M likes wine with high acid levels so he actually quite liked what I'm now pretty sure was a bum bottle. E and I were not fans. However even though I didn't like this one, I'm not going to say that it was a complete miss and I'd be curious to try it again; although next time I will check the bottle before I buy it to see if there's any sediment in it.

06 April 2015

Butterscotch Cheesecake

I've started doing a fair amount of baking now that I am both getting used to using substitutes and have had a few people coming from the US bring groceries for me. I've also struck an agreement with M that he hauls water up my five flights for me if I bake for him. I think I'm getting the better end of that bargain frankly.

Two of my recent baking obsessions have been cheesecakes and vegetable cakes (carrot and zucchini especially). Both of these require cream cheese-not an available ingredient here. If you go to the grocery store you will find cream cheese (krem peynir) but that far more resembles those jars of spreadable, bright orange "cheese" that always seem to be popular around Christmas? I have no idea what that stuff really is but I always kind of liked it. However that is not a suitable substitute for American cream cheese.

Your best bet is to use labne, which is a super strained yogurt. The downside of using labne is that if you play with it too much it loses its integrity and thins out again. I've largely had good luck with it but a couple weeks ago I was making cinnamon cream cheese frosting for zucchini cake and it fell apart. So we had zucchini cake with cream cheese drizzle instead. It's easier with cheesecake since it gets baked.

Of course I got so distracted while writing the blog that I forgot to check the cheesecake and the pecans got a wee...singed. Always remember to check the cheesecake.

It's a good thing I'm bellydancing again because dessert is now a one-two time a week thing now. At least I'm not eating them all myself now! I make sure that E&M take leftovers.


  • 1 Cup crushed Graham Crackers or cookies
  • 2 Tbls Sugar
  • 3 Tbls butter, melted

  1. Combine crushed Graham Crackers, sugar, and butter and press into the bottom of a greased 8x8 pan.
  2. Bake at 325F for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven, set aside, and increase oven temperature to 350F.

  • 12 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 Cup sugar
  • 2 Tbls flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 ounces butterscotch chips
  • 2 Tbls milk
  • Flaked coconut
  • Chopped pecans

  1. Combine milk and butterscotch chips in melt, stirring fairly often, in a double boiler over low heat., When melted, remove from double boiler and set aside.
  2. Whisk cream cheese, sugar, and flour.
  3. Add butterscotch.
  4. Once those are combined, whisk in eggs, one at a time.
  5. Pour over crust an bake for 20-ish minutes. Until the top looks semi-set up.
  6. Remove from oven and sprinkle coconut and pecans on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes.

01 April 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Gordias Kalecik Karasi

Tuesday morning while sitting in the local tax office when the power wet out. I was hoping it was just a flicker but we soon learned that it was all of our neighborhood. Then we heard that it was all of Istanbul...then 50 cities across Turkey. Dude. What could we do but drink wine?

Earlier I'd stopped in Solera, the wine house just up the street from my apartment, where they offer 25% discount on bottles that you buy for take away, and picked up a couple new reds. Country-wide power outage, candle light, and Turkish homework seemed a great excuse to break out one.

I was thrilled to discover a new Kalecik Karasi. An award winning (Decanter Bronze) no less. The Gordias 2012 is actually not a 100% varietal but a blend of 85% Kalecik Karasi, 10% Syrah, and 5% Cabernet Franc.

Against the romantic glow from my Carrefour tea lights, the Gordias was the pretty red of sweet cherries just before they're fully ripe. One the nose it was lovely: all red berries with strong cherries, undertones of strawberry, and for the first time ever I actually smelled the cotton candy.

Is someone working on alcoholic cotton candy? Shouldn't someone be?

The flavor followed the nose nicely with cherries being the strongest and most obvious flavor. Soft with very low tannins, medium high acid, and a long finish rounded out the delightful flavor.

Gordias 2012 Kalecik Karasi is for me a real winner and I think it'll become a regular in my cellar (i.e. the half-case wine box I keep all my reds in. classy, I know). And at 45TL with the Solera to-go discount won't break my bank. Which is great since I kind of owe the Feds some money.