Sunday, April 28, 2013

Crossing Continents with a Covered Dish

I belong to a Facebook group called Cook's Corner for Expats in Turkey that is a collection of 700 home cooks living in Turkey from all corners of the globe. People use the group to ask each other where to find the elusive ingredient from home (cilantro? black beans? celery?). People also use it to share their excitement when a beloved product from home becomes a regular import in Turkey; I remember the Brits getting really excited about some sort of malt vinegar potato chips.

People post photos of their latest cooking and baking creations. Do you find cooking motivation by seeing what other people have made? I do. So many of the foods are things new to me, especially the Asian dishes. One day I exclaimed: "we need to have a potluck - I want to meet your food - oh, and you too." The idea took off and we instantly filled a roster of 23 people to meet together and share our creations. This is the second potluck of the group.
This is what I brought:
Spinach and Exotic Fruit Salad

 Brooks, an American and cofounder of the group with Virginia,
brought the rice dish
that his family always demands:
Indian Rice With Peas
I was so grateful to Helene
for bringing this Southwestern Salad.
I hadn't tasted a black bean for three years!
You don't know what you miss until you can't have it.
I loved meeting Kuraishini,
an expat from Sri Lanka,
who regularly gives
Sri Lankan cooking lessons
here in Istanbul.
She brought Sri Lankan fish cakes.
For the potluck, she toned down the spiciness.
Ha, bring it on Kuraishini.
 I want to see if I can handle it.
This is a dish from Aura's
hometown in Turkey, Sarma Aşı, 
a particular twist on stuffed grape leaves.
The bulgur, which has walnuts in it,
is stuffed into the grape leaves with a gherkin.
It's called Burdur Sarmaaşı.
Oh, this was so delish!
Underneath that spinach roll
was homemade dark and nutty German black bread.
The above food and the next two photos of food
were made by
a lovely young Pole named Aleksandra
who probably bakes and cooks
in the five or six languages she speaks!

 Gluten-free mini Zucchini Pizzas
made by Nicki from Long Island, New York
 Virginia, an American who used to own a popular café
in Istanbul's Sultanahmet neighborhood,
brought Hoppin' John, a traditional Afro-American dish
made with ham hocks.
Ham hocks weren't available in Istanbul
so Virginia used home-raised bacon from Serbia.
She had a non-pork version there too for the Muslims,
which was nice, as our hostess Kathy
was an American Sufi.
Kathy has a personal shopping business
and had just shown travel entrepreneur Rick Steves
around the bazaars earlier in the week.
 Salmon Quiche brought by
 Hawaiian Island native Becky from Maui.
I hadn't had scalloped potatoes in years either.
Western civilization comfort food!
an Australian with Cypriot heritage
brought this.
A traditional Austrian Sacher torte,
a chocolate cake
with a rum-apricot glaze
and a Pariser Crème glaze.
It was to die for.
An American named Franklin Orosco made this.
He used to own a café in Lithuania.
He made these
 Powidl Taschl, Mohn Plunder
and Apfel Plunder too.
These were so warm and wonderful.
I could just imagine Austrian children eating them
and becoming emotionally attached.
Franklin's creations were made with such
skill and pride.
You heard it here first (it's still a bit of a secret)
but Franklin Orosco is going to be offering baking lessons
here in Istanbul. Sssshhh. That's still on the QT.
This delectable dessert
is called an Eton Mess.
It was brought by a proud Englishman, Michael.
It was so fun to hear about the history of this dish.
American readers, what should I bring next time that represents American culture? My spinach salad couldn't burn or scorch and I thought of bringing an Arabic fattoush salad next time for the same reason. But I so loved sampling other people's "national dishes" that I feel I should 'represent' American food heritage.
I do make an amazing guacamole that used to make an appearance every Super Bowl game. I could bring that. What other dishes would you suggest that 'represent' American culinary heritage?
This is the first time I've ever taken a ferry and a cab to a potluck. I crossed from Europe, where I live, to Asia, where Kathy lives. What a lovely neighborly experience: crossing continents with a covered dish.
Photos courtesy of Brooks Emerson
Here are some other cooking posts you might enjoy:
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Friday, April 12, 2013

It's Tulip Time at Istanbul's Emirgan Park!

 A spectacular sunny day -
one of the first of Spring.
I was with Barb,
a new friend from America,
working here in Istanbul.

We were excited to explore Emirgan Park
for the first time.
A river of grape hyacinth
Such an imaginative planting!
 It was a perfect day,
and a perfect way,
to enjoy a conversation.
How relaxing
to just contemplate
which planting and flowers
were the prettiest -
it was so hard to choose.

 What do you like best?
Ribbons of color? All one color?
All colors mixed together?

 A traditional Turkish lady
with the Turkish flag
created in red tulips.
The crescent and the star
are the symbols of Turkey.
 A tree with idiosyncrasies.
It was so fun to have Barb
as a conversation partner.
She's done all kinds of interesting stuff
from owning and operating her own bakery
in Fairbanks, Alaska,
to working as a corporate labor lawyer
in Johannesburg and Istanbul.
She is helping an American corporation
integrate a Turkish factory into their portfolio.
I've often thought this tulip
with leaves that seem to form a crown
should be the official tulip of
the Istanbul Tulip Festival.
It's shape is most like the tulip
on all of the Iznik Tile.
What fun!
The "Nazar,"
or Turkish Evil Eye,
said to ward off evil thought.

A tulip made out of
soon-to-bloom tulips.

 Istanbul is famous for its youthful energy,
but it has its contemplative spots too.
You just have to seek them out.
I'm grateful to have shared a beautiful
morning with a new friend.
Do you have a favorite spring flower
you look forward to every year?
If you enjoyed this springtime walk,
 you may enjoy a couple other springtime walks in Prague:
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Morning Menemen

Hot and steaming
before I added my parsley garnish
The easiest Turkish recipe to cook is this one: menemen. I love the name because it is so exotic, yet it is a dish that could be cooked all over the world because the ingredients for it are so ubiquitous and inexpensive. The recipe is easy too. It really can't be messed up.
Bread is necessary to mop up the juices.
I make the slices as thin as possible.
Today I made my breakfast for myself, but one of the emotional tugs I feel writing about menemen is the memory of all the times I have shared it with friends. Breakfast is a very social, very shared meal in Turkey. Sometimes, instead of assembling and eating an entire Turkish breakfast, or ordering an entire Turkish breakfast, one dish of hot comfort food suffices. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Days of Wine and Roses and Tulips: Wine Tasting at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet

 It's Tulip Time in Istanbul.
 The whole city is bursting with tulips - 4,000,000 of them.
These are in the courtyard of the Four Seasons Hotel Sultanahmet.
 My friend, Yasemin, had gathered a group for
wine tasting and divine cheeses -
a regular Friday night event
at the Four Seasons.
 Quince marmalade, olives, and fresh melon
with assorted breads and cheeses
displayed and assembled
to create our light repasts.
It was a treat to see friends -
in a momentary break from
weeks of intensive Turkish lessons.
Last night's tasting featured Italian wines:
Pinot Grigio Venezie IGT Blush, Ardesia 2011
Nero D'Avola IGT Sicily, Cataldo 2011
Cavalcante Sangiovese Di Toscana IGT, Baroncini 2011
Chianti "Messere" D.O.C.G. Baroncini 2011
I enjoyed the full-bodied Sangiovese and Chianti best. 
Danish blue and a smoky
Cergiz cheese were the most fabulous -
because they were the boldest.
Afterwards, we went to the roof
to enjoy the view of the Hagia Sophia on one side.
And the view of the Bosphorus
and the Four Seasons courtyard
on the other.
This Four Seasons Hotel used to be a coed prison.
It housed political prisoners
who were imprisoned after
the military coups in the 1980s.
 It is better to be in Istanbul
now, not then,
during these days of tulips and wine and roses.
Photos courtesy of Yasemin Erdem and Ibrahim Turco.
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