28 November 2015

Pammakaristos Church Istanbul

My little brother visited me in October which was super exciting. I've been trying to get him to come for ages and finally did. Of course we did all the touristy things in Istanbul:

The Archaeology Museum (the sarcophagi are my favorite part):

The Aya Sofya:

The Topkapi Palace:

And the Kariye Museum (my personal favorite):

Since we were in the neighborhood, and especially since I'd never been, we decided to track down the Pammakaristos Church (Fethiye Museum) after leaving the Kariye. I had the address, Googled walking directions, printed them out, and even asked someone at the Kariye where the street was. It seemed relatively straight forward. But then we started walking and I remembered that, oh yes, this is Istanbul and finding the street you want is never as easy as it seems. Thank goodness for GPS.

The Pammakaristos church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in 1294 but but the parecclesion (a type of side chapel found in Byzantine churches), the only part open to the public, was not added until 1355. It was built in a cross plan with four main pillars. The largest dome depicts Jesus in the middles and the 12 surrounding segments are mosaics of Old Testament prophets.

The main dome

This was the Greek Patriarchate until the conquering of Istanbul in 1455. In 1590 it was converted into a women's mosque. After a lot of changes made during its conversion to a mosque (including some architectural changes and having all the mosaics covered) the mosque was closed and the Parecclesion was restored by the American Byzantine Institute and is now open to the public (5 TL)  as the Fethiye Museum.

I don't think this museum gets all that many visitors. If the Kariye Museum, which is one of the best examples of Byzantine art and architecture in Turkey doesn't draw that many people then I assume the near-ish by Pammakaristos gets even fewer. Which is a real shame because this is a small gem. It is completely worth navigating Istanbul's ofttimes confusing streets to find. The uncovered mosaics are stunning and the interior architectural details are equally worthy of admiration.

Jesus from the center of the main dome.

It turns out that getting to the museum wasn't as difficult as getting away. There's not a lot in the way of public transportation super nearby and I don't know the buses in that area all that well so we had to get down the hill to the main street to catch a ferry or a taxi. Finding the road down was no problem; it was the getting down part that was iffy. After a few minor twists and turns along side streets we found the one we needed but were momentarily stumped as it seemed to fall away beneath our feet into nothingness. I thought I was fairly used to Istanbul's steep hills but this one made my stomach drop.

We slowly slowly made our way, both reassured and worried that the natives were taking the hill with equal care, and successfully reached the bottom without falling. Yay me!

The long and short is that despite it not being to most simple to access museum it is worth the visit.

25 November 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Prodom 2012 Syrah Kalecik Karası

The Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc blend is not Prodom's only red blend. Prodom also has a  Syrah Kalecik Karası blend (also 120TL at La Cave) and, thanks to my awesome neighbor who wanted to do a comparison of the two, I had a chance to try it.

I'm not a huge fan of Syrah in general, or of blends that are majority Syrah, as I find that many of them are too tart for my liking. So I was pleasantly surprised to find enjoying this one from the first sip.

The nose was spice, cherries, red fruit, and something sweet that I couldn't quite identify, perhaps cotton candy coming through from the Kalecik Karası? Cotton candy as a scent/flavor in wine kind of freaks me out a little. It does not seem like a natural flavor for a grape to have.

Possible cotton candy aside, the flavors on the palate were very nice: blackberries, dark fruits, clove, allspice, and a little tobacco. This Prodom is nicely tannic with medium-high acid (I got a little bit of the Coke burn from it) with a long, clean finish.

It does mellow nicely so eventually that Coke burn went away. I think I've mentioned before that I'm usually too impatient to let a wine breathe for more than a count of 10 so that's quite likely why I was getting the Coke affect.

While we opened both bottles that evening we never did get around to doing a proper comparison. One bottle was probably enough but caution was thrown to the winds and we opened the other bottle anyway. Unfortunately my neighbor was already three sheets to those winds so actual comparing didn't happen. We're going to give ourselves a second chance at the comparison sometime this winter when he returns to Istanbul which is also good for me. While I remember being surprised by how much I liked this Prodom I now don't remember which one I liked more! And since the Turkish Lira is once again gaining ground (good for Turkey if bad for me) I'm less willing to run around buying 120TL bottles of wine willy nilly.

21 November 2015

Truffled Macaroni Cheese

I deeply and truly love cheese. I love it. A few years ago my doctor told me I should stop eating hard cheeses because of my cholesterol levels. I'd rather go happy than give up cheese. I've complained before about the lack of cheese variety (particularly the lack of not dyed or insanely expensive cheddar) so I won't do that again.

That's like 7 cups of cheese. It was beautiful.

I recently came back from the States and brought three suitcases full, largely, of groceries. There were about six pounds of pork products and probably eight or more of cheeses. I went to both Michigan and DC while I was in the US and on my DC leg Lauren took my to Trader Joe's.

Oh Trader Joe. I think I miss you the most.

I really only mean to buy the Italian truffle cheese. But then there was the raw milk cheddar, the port sault, the apricot Stilton, and something I've never seen there before...truffle cheddar. Those (some Manchego, roasted garlic cheddar, and several more pounds of extra sharp white cheddar) came home with me.

As much as I would love to savor them slowly over time, cheese doesn't really freeze well. Technically it freezes just fine, its the thawing when things go wrong. So when you have a surplus of cheeses that don't have a long shelf life and need to be consumed pretty quickly what do you do? Make macaroni cheese.

Adding the pasta to the bechamel.

But not just any macaroni cheese. When you have Italian truffle cheese that's going bad fast you really just need to fully commit to truffle macaroni cheese. It's worth the extra effort and expense. The night I made this I was a béchamel genius. I was a hero.


For the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons truffle oil
  • 2 cups panko flakes
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan 
For macaroni:
  • 1 pound noodles (shells, elbow, etc)
  • 1/2 Cup butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 cups grated cheddar*
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Truffle salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in the middle of oven. Butter the baking dish**. Set a large, covered pot of salted water over high heat to boil.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat butter and oil until butter foam subsides. Add panko and garlic; cook, stirring, until crumbs are golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl, stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan and salt, and set aside.
  3. Add macaroni to boiling salted water and cook until just al dente (avoid overcooking). Drain macaroni and set aside. 
  4. In a large wide pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle flour over butter, whisking to incorporate and make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until roux is light golden, about 4 minutes. Gradually pour in milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate and make a béchamel sauce. Raise heat to medium-high and bring sauce to a low boil, whisking constantly. Reduce to a simmer, whisking occasionally, and cook until béchamel sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes more. 
  5. Add the salt, pepper, and truffle salt. Add the cheeses in three batches, whisking until each addition is completely melted before adding more. Remove from heat.
  6. Add the drained macaroni to the pot with the cheese sauce and stir well to coat. Transfer macaroni mixture to the buttered baking dish and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 18 to 23 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
*I used a combination of Turkish gruyere, Italian truffle cheese, and raw milk cheddar.

** Or go the extra step and use truffle oil!

18 November 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla 2014 Boğazkere

We know I love Suvla but I love Suvla even more now than before because they are now producing  a Boğazkere, an Öküzgöz, and a Boğazkere-Öküzgözü blend. I am so thrilled I'm practically dancing. While I can't wait to try them all, this week we're talking about the Boğazkere.

Boğazkere grapes are dark and often produce purply-red wines and the Suvla followed form. In the nose I thought I detected liquorice, berries, clove, and maybe some eucalyptus. It's a nice nose. I often find with good wines that I become so immersed enjoying the nose that it's a little while before get own to drinking. Someone should be making candles that smell like wine. Is anyone on this?*

On the palate the Suvla isn't as "throat burnery" as the name suggests but the leather, clove, black mulberry, and blackberry flavors are gorgeous. Nice amount of tannins, acid that balances well with the tannins and flavors, and a long finish combine to create a wine that is not only very scrummy, but that is also an excellent example of what Boğazkere grapes are capable of.

A bottle of this won't break the bank either. Suvla's 2014 Boğazkere retails for somewhere around 30TL (in a Suvla store-anywhere else will carry an ofttimes significant mark up).

*In fact yes-people are on this! Rewined Candles which offers quite a few wine scents including sangria and Winewicks which has a more limited variety of scents. If I'm not going to drink Merlot or Chardonnay the likelihood of my wanting to smell them are pretty low...

11 November 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Prodom 2012 Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc

I have so many fond memories of Prodom's Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc blend. It was the first truly beautiful Turkish wine I had. It was the wine that made me realize both that Turkish wine could be amazing and that (at 120 TL at La Cave) that I was probably going to have to pay for amazing wine.

Why did I fall so hard in love with this wine? Well tannins for one thing. Every time I treat myself to a bottle of this I'm reminded again of the very niiiice tannins it has, and I loves me some tannins. But I get ahead of myself. The nose is dark, full of dark fruits and cherries. If something can smell velvety, this does.

Those beautiful, velvety tannins are accompanied by some medium acid and a long finish. Flavors on the palate mimic the nose with luscious dark fruits, chocolate, and some nuttiness from the oak.

Delicious AND it looks good with my view!

Like my other favorite reds, this Prodom blend goes well with my favorite foods like tomatoes, goat cheese, and truffled almonds.

09 November 2015

The Ephesus Museum Is FINALLY Open for Business.

After three years in Turkey and seven trips to Ephesus I was thrilled when last month I saw that the Ephesus Museum was finally open!

My little brother visited me in October and one of our trips out of Istanbul was of course to Ephesus. This was my seventh, SEVENTH, trip (I am the queen of the one day Ephesus/Sirince tour). In the very nearly three years that I've been living in Turkey and coming to Ephesus, the museum, which houses most of the original statues in Ephesus-the ones there are reproductions, has been closed. With no word about when it would be open. However on this trip while taking a short cut from the "Temple" (single remaining, sad, crooked column) of Artemis and the Basilica of Saint John we passed the museum and there were people going in!! Whether he wanted to or not my brother was going to go to the museum with me.

We went to the Basilica first where we discovered that you can buy a combined ticket for things. Since we'd already gone to Ephesus we didn't need that but for 15TL instead of 20 (10 at each place) my brother could buy a combined ticket for the Basilica and museum. Muze Kart holders like myself have free entry to both places.

Almost all my pictures are black and white which I could pretend was on purpose for artistic, aesthetic something something but that would be a bald faced lie. Frankly I was too tired to drag out my big camera so I just used my little point and click on which I have no control over things such as white balance, f-stops, shutter speed, other fancy camera words. It's a miracle I ever manage to take a decent picture really. One of the many reasons I love hanging out with my brother; free camera lessons. He told me something earlier during his visit about shooting in low light and it was like a revelation. My life is never going to be the same.

Zeus. Of course.

A satyr. Dude's creepy, no?

Battle scene made out of mother of pearl

The museum even includes a statue of the god Priapus. A headless statue but I don't think his head is what people recognize when they look at/think about Priapus.

Hello Big Boy...

Priapus, son of Aphrodite and Dionysus, is a minor god in the Greek pantheon who, as a fertility god was the protector of farm animals and male genitalia. Apparently there's a pretty well intact fresco in Pompeii which I'm going to look for when I'm there later this month. Apparently, despite the giant and perpetual erection he was impotent and blamed donkeys for the loss of his honor. Although it seems that he hates donkeys because one thwarted his attempt to rape the goddess Hestia so...I think he didn't have much honor to begin with. You can read Priapus' full details here.

It's really a gorgeous museum. The set up and flow through the rooms is really nice and there's a semi-sheltered outdoor area to the museum as well. Naturally I played with the cat while my brother wandered around. I always joke that no trip is complete unless I have fallen down; well I didn't exactly fall but I'm counting it. As I was crouching down to pet the cat my backpack, laden with camera, extra lens, water bottle, etc., etc. pulled me over backwards. Luckily the result was simply me sitting down super clumsily instead of falling on my back to crush any of the equipment.

Worth a three year wait? Eh, maybe not. Worth taking an hour or so to visit while you're in Selcuk? Definitely. The statues they have in there are stunning and as I said the museum itself is rather lovely.

04 November 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla 2012 Kirte

Every time I visit the Suvla shop in Cihangir I inquire as to whether or not something new has come out. Last time I hit a jackpot. Suvla has a new Kirte. I've previously blogged about the 2011 Kirte and the 2010 so it's time to see what's going on with the 2012!

Suvla's Kirtes are the same blend of wines as their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend which remains one of my absolute favorite Suvla wines. However, unlike the (unnamed) blend, the Kirtes are oaked. The extra attention also reflects in the price. Whereas the blend hovers around 28TL/bottle, the Kirtes are in the 40TL range.

The 2012 Kirte has a dark and spicy nose with undertones of forest fruits; all of which come through on a palate rich with red and forest fruits, spice, and maybe some cassis. Finished off with medium tannins, a well-rounded amount of acid, and a long finish, the 2012 Kirte is a great wine to pair with steak and other grilled red meats. For my taste, it was a little hot and syrupy so it's not something I would drink on its own.

A nice wine for sure, but for me I'll stick with the blend.

I recently came back from the States with a gift that is my favorite new accessory to my kitchen. It's hard to see in this picture but on the upper right is a wooden sign that says: "ALCOHOL Because no great story ever started with someone eating a salad." I love that my friends know me so well!

02 November 2015

Toddler on Assignment: Dark Chocolate Cake

Our family had a birthday celebration yesterday, and I enlisted #MimiAkidi's help with cake preparations. She spent the day terribly excited not just about making a cake, but especially about eating it. 

I started the cake in the morning, by pouring the boiling water over the cocoa powder to let it bloom and let Mimi help me to whisk it and bring it together. In the interest of my own sanity, I did the rest of the cake while she was napping, as baking is a bit of restorative mental therapy for me as much as it is fun for her. But, I prefer to bake alone. 

The recipe I used is a pretty well-known one from Williams Sonoma. The best chocolate cake I've ever had was a W-S box mix I made for a friend about 8 years ago. I decided to make this one from scratch for my husband, and it doesn't disappoint!

First, pour boilin water over the cocoa, and let it cool. It's almost like pudding, but don't do what I did and taste it, because...just don't. Trust me on that one!

Then, cream the butter and sugar, pour in the cooled cocoa mixture, and add eggs and vanilla. 

Alternate additions of flour and buttermilk, until you have a light and creamy batter. 

Pour into a well-greased by ft pan (or two 8" rounds) and bake for 55 minutes at 325 (if using rounds, 45 minutes at 350). 

Invert onto a plate, and cool completely. 

Then, as your toddler would wake up smelling the baking cake, enlist her help in decorating. I chose the most toddler friendly way, and opted to just do powdered sugar. 

Mimi takes her baking very seriously. 

Add candles, and your finished cake is ready to eat!!!