Out of my comfort zone

Well, it’s my second year here in Turkey now. I’ve moved closer to the city, to the hutsle and bustle, and got my own apartment. Of course there is still an adjustment period. After coming back from a month in the States, I started work quickly (the day after I got back). There was nothing in my apartment–and when I saw nothing, I don’t mean just furniture. No, there was no oven or stove, no drapes or blinds, not even a light bulb anywhere. My school helped me set up my utilities (which is a longer and more stressful story for another day) and my friends helped me find deals to set up my apartment. Two months later, I have a cozy little place in a great location and am really enjoying my last year here.

However, it is now the time of year that I love most in the States. The tall buildings and polluted air don’t really allow for that crisp feeling of fall. And while I can get a hot chocolate at Starbucks, it just isn’t the same. And finding an actual pumpkin somewhere? Perhaps if I were Nancy Drew. That means no pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin patches, or pumpkin carving. They do have, strangely enough, pumpkin seeds available as snacks year round, but that just doesn’t cut it. There’s also a lone, beautful tree, outside my window and it’s starting to change colors and drop it’s leaves. But the street cleaners sweep up any leaves before I can get a pile big enough to jump in.

What can I do to fill this void? Well one of the things I love about fall is the food.  So I started baking. While I love cooking and am actually quite good at it (thank you chicken noodle soup on a cold day), I have about three recipes that I can fall back on when it comes to baking. All the measuring and accuracy is too much. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with baking. In the States, I had boxes for cakes and brownies and tubs for frosting. But the cakes here don’t taste the same and that’s assuming that I can even read and comprehend the instructions on the box to make anything. But it’s fall and I want my house filled with some kind of pleasant aroma, so I’ll just have to suck it up and literally start from scratch. Here are some pictures of my vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cake (complete with homemade icing).

IMG_0033 IMG_0036

(Find the recipe I used, here for the cake here, and the frosting here)

IMG_0016(Find the recipe I used for the cupcakes here)

Now I need to look up how to take better pictures of food…

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Bratislava has the best food (Vienna trip, part II)

After a wonderful day on Wednesday of markets and historical buildings, we decided to also make a full day of Friday. We got up early, actually took the metro and tried to find Brunnenmarkt. However, after such a successful day with the Naschmarkt the day before, the second market was a bit of a letdown. Though it was early Friday afternoon by the time we got there, many of the stalls were closed and many others seemed to actually be Turkish or Turkish related. Considering we can get plenty of kebab spices in Istanbul, we made our way quickly through the second market and decided to walk a bit farther to check out a Brauhaus that was supposed to be nearby. We did find out that the brewery, Ottakringer, was there, but the security guard informed us that there was no Brauhaus. So we wandered a bit more to find a metro station and made our way back to the Naschmarkt area, where we found a quick Chinese/Thai restaurant to eat at (after finding that the Thai restaurant for which we’d rave reviews was not open for lunch). We then made our way back to the Museum Quarter where we thought we could check out the last art museum from our combo pack. We left disappointed after just 15 minutes and ventured toward what we thought could be a better museum. Across from where we were stood the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum. They were identical, elegant buildings which faced each other with a courtyard in between.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both building had once been a palace.

Friday so far hadn’t lived up to the adventures of Thursday, so we didn’t hold high hopes for the Natural History Museum, but once we entered the foyer, we knew we’d made a good decision. Even the entryway was grand and inviting. It said, “I’m elegant, yet educated and I want to share my knowledge with those willing to learn and discover,” which, coincidently, we were. The first five rooms or so of the first floor were set up with cases and cases and cases of ROCKS. Rocks in all shapes, colors, sizes, and from all over the world. The detail was incredible. Apparently it used to be a private collection, but was opened to the public by the late owner’s wife a long time ago.  We moved from rooms of rocks to rooms of asteroids, meteors, and moon rocks to fossils, dinosaurs, skulls, Neanderthals, early weavings, ceramics and weaponry. On the second floor we found stuffed animals, reptiles and fish.  And lining the ceilings of each room were corresponding paintings, painted in a Romantic fashion: the rock rooms had pictures of deserts and mountains; the rooms with fossils had pictures of whimsical, tropical lands; the rooms with fish had boats and ships sailing on stormy waters. You get my point. It was awesome. It took us at least 20 minutes to get through one room; we ran out of time and the museum closed before we got to see the whole thing.

The next morning we got up early and took the bus out to Bratislava. It only took an hour and the tickets were 13 Euro, roundtrip. Finding our way around Bratislava didn’t take too long, because it’s not too large, but it’s well worth it. We stayed at the Hostel Blues, which while not providing cheap breakfast buffets, did have a very helpful staff and much more character than the Wombats Hostels. We walked around for a bit and tried to find some of the recommended spots we’d looked up. The one thing we were really excited about and ended up visiting everyday was the Slovak Pub.  The best part about Slovakia was the food and Slovak Pub had excellent food. The traditional Slovak dishes such as potato dumpling, garlic soup in a bread bowl, and the best potato pancakes I’d ever had, were incredibly delicious and hardy—the perfect meal for a windy, cold Slovakian day. And cheap, too! We got four entrees, two beers, one soday,two shots of spirits, and a dessert for about 25 Euro. Not to mention that the atmosphere was incredibly relaxing and all the staff was very friendly and helpful.

Our second day in Bratislava we took a walking tour around the city. If you’ve never done a walking tour and you’re on a budget, I highly recommend it. Pretty much every big city has one and they’re usually quite informative—and free! Well, they work on tips, but it’s still cheaper than a paid tour. Most hostels have information on a local walking tour. Anyway, the tour was super informative and we learned a lot about Bratislava’s history, back from when it was still a part of the Hungarian Empire, to when it was Czechoslovakia, to the first time it was independent, then Czechoslovakia again, and then once again, an independent Slovakia. (They also aren’t huge fans of Prague.) As we were walking around, it was obvious that the country had once been communist. You would get to sections of towns were all the buildings shared an industrial feel. Yet there were other parts of town that were magical. Apparently there were much more magical parts before the communist government tore down a bunch of old buildings in the 1970s. After the tour was over, my fingers were almost numb inside my gloves, so we went to a nearby pizzeria. And even the pizza was good! A brewery later that night, and then Slovak Pub again (in addition to a few other local pubs).

We caught the bus back to Vienna the next morning (after one last stop at the Slovak Pub). Overall, we were satisfied with Bratislava and wouldn’t mind visiting it again, but not in the winter. But we were ready to be back in Vienna. Aftergathering and repacking all our belongings and readying for the flight the next morning, we decided to have one last night of wandering the city. We saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral at night and it was simply breathtaking. We walked down by the water, got some ice cream, and a bratwurst. We found Kleines Cafe, which provided a cozy atmostphere for our last tea in the city.

The following morning we caught the metro back to the airport and were back in Istanbul before we knew it. Of course we’re already planning our next trip.

Banana Cake and Berlin

My roommate’s dad is very sweet to us and since he knows I like bananas, he is always bringing me some. The problem is that they usually go bad before I can eat them. The easy American fix for this is banana bread. However, I didn’t realize this was an American fix (or maybe it’s just not a Turkish one–I haven’t quite figured it out yet) until I made some the other day. In fact, since there were so many bananas, I made two batches and decided to share most of them. When I took some down to the family I tutor for, she looked confused as to what it actually was.

“Mus ekmek,” I explain, which is the best I can do. It’s literally banana and bread, but with all the suffixes in Turkish, I have no idea if it’s right.

Mmm, banana cake sprinkled with brown sugar.

“Bread? Is this not a cake?”

Well, no. In English, we call this bread. But if you look at it, it does contain a different consistency than most regular breads. It shares a closer consistency to cake in my opinion and it is sweeter, but hadn’t thought of it until she actually pointed it out. Which, if it were bread would make it some form of Mus Pasta, as pasta in Turkish is actually cake. I know, I was confused too.

Either way, the smell of it baking reminded me of home and if I were in the States, I would be stuffing my face next Thursday with Thanksgiving foods. And for the record, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Ever. Who doesn’t love a holiday that centers around food? Alas, I will not be home for Thanksgiving this year, but I will be in Berlin with a friend from the States. So it will be fun to see how we can celebrate it together in a country that doesn’t celebrate it. Maybe we’ll have some mus pasta.

Election day and soup

The tension is high, but not just in the US. It seems that the entire world is invested in who will become the next president of the United States. Yes, it’s been a hot topic among us American expats here in Turkey, but it has also dominated the conversations of my of my native friends as well. I knew before I came here that elections back home were a big deal worldwide, but I did not realize just how big a deal. People are continuously chattering about it and everyone is anxiously awaiting the final results. Unfortunately for us, we will have to wait quite some time. Since we’re seven hours ahead of the East Coast here, we won’t find out who has won until early Wednesday morning. I myself will be waking up early and checking the news first thing.

In the meantime, I am home sick today (doctor’s orders), so I don’t really have much to distract me from the waiting. There is only so much coverage online since polls aren’t even open yet in the States and by the time things really get going, I’ll have to scoot off to bed for work in the morning. I did manage to make some delicious, homemade chicken noodle soup (tavuk çorba as the Turks might say).

And to my future expat comrads, if you happen to land outside the US during an election year, here is the website to register to vote and cast your absentee ballots: www.FVAP.gov

Food, friends, and latkes

Happy Hanukkah! For those who might not know, today is the first day of Hanukkah. As Adam Sandler has pointed out, there are eight nights in total. It’s not actually a huge holiday for us, but thanks to the timing Christmas, we’ve placed a little more emphasis over the years. The best part about Jewish holidays is that we are huge fans of food, music, and talking. So to help celebrate my first Hanukkah in CO, I decided to give my gentile friends a mini-Hanukkah celebration.

We’re having latkes (potato pancakes), playing dreidel with gelt (chocolate coins), listening to music, drinking Manischewitz, and lighting the menorah. And since this is their first Jewish celebratory experience, I thought I would also give them some challah (bread) and lekach (honey cake), which aren’t typically eaten on Hanukkah (challah might be eaten if it falls on a Sabbath), but they’re still fun to have.

If anyone would like to join in on the fun, here is a recipe for latkes that can be found on jewfaq.org:

Ingredients:

4 medium potatoes

1 medium onion

2 eggs

3/4 c. matzah meal

salt and pepper to taste

vegetable oil

Shred the potatoes and onion into a large bowl. Press out all excess liquid.  Add eggs and mix well. Add matzah meal gradually while mixing until the batter is doughy, not too dry. (You may not need the whole amount–it depends on how well you drained the veggies.) Add a few dashes of salt and black pepper. Don’t worry if the batter turns a little orange; that will go away when it fries.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil to medium-high heat. Form the batter into thin patties about the size of your palm. Fry batter in oil. Be patient: this takes time, and too much flipping will burn the outside without cooking the inside.  Flip when the bottom is golden brown.

Place the finished latkes on paper towels to drain. Eat hot with sour cream or applesauce (I actually prefer ketchup).

Chicken and Rice

This is something I like to make fairly often. It’s pretty simple and delicious. It makes about 4 servings, but you can easily double the recipe. I’ll make sure to post pictures next time I make it.

Ingredients:

1 Chicken breast

1 box Goya yellow rice

1 can Goya black beans

1 can Rotel (original or hot)

1 Avacado

Directions:

Boil and shred chicken. Make rice according to the directions on the box. Drain, rinse, and add beans. Drain and add can of Rotel. Mix together, and serve topped with Avacado slices.

My first quiche

Since I’m now working 6 days a week, I made it my goal for today to prepare a bunch of meals for the week. I started with chile (not my best batch), followed by baked shells with ricotta and mozzarella (yum!), and finally, my first quiche. I have to say that I was a little nervous about how it might turn out, but I was fairly impressed by my skills. After looking up a few recipes to kind of get an idea of what I wanted to do, this is what I came up with:

*I apologize for my lack of specific measurements. I’m not a fan of measuring things out unless I’m baking

Crust:

4 or 5 red potatoes, peeled and shredded

1 egg

1 tsp(ish) of flour

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Baking above sea level

 

So part of my Colorado adventure has been the challenges of baking in high altitude. My first couple attempts, well they failed. The first time I made a cake it literally crumbled when I took it out of the pan. It turned more into a dirt cake. And though I’m a much better chef than baker anyway, I am determined to make this work.  My super researching skills found me this way awesome chart that I wanted to share from QuakerOats.com (now if only I can memorize it):

 

Adjustment Reason for Adjustment
Oven temperature Increase 15 to 25°F, except when baking chocolate or delicate cakes, which might burn.
  • High temperatures help to “set” the batter before the cells formed by leavening gases expand too much.
  • Cookies may or may not need a temperature increase.
Baking time Decrease the amount of time your recipe bakes. Higher oven temperature.
Leavening
  • Reduce baking powder by 1/8 teaspoon at 3,000 feet, or more at higher altitudes.
  • Reduce baking soda in quick breads by 1/4 of total amount, but use at least 1/2 teaspoon for each cup of acidic liquid (i.e. buttermilk, citrus juices, etc.)
  • Adjustments in the amount of yeast are generally not made. Instead, the cook must carefully watch that the dough does not rise more than double its size. The faster rise also means flavor doesn’t have time to develop. Punching down the dough twice will improve flavor and texture.
Prevents excess rising, which:

  • stretches the cell structure, producing coarse, irregular texture;
  • causes dough to sink in the center, and
  • results in low volume.
Sugar For each 1 cup of sugar, decrease up to 1 tablespoon at 3,000 feet, more at higher altitudes. Because of faster liquid evaporation, sugar solutions become more concentrated, which affects the texture of baked goods.
Liquid
  • For each 1 cup liquid, add 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3,000 feet, more at higher altitudes.
  • In cookies, add 1/2 to 2 teaspoons water per recipe.
  • If biscuit dough seems dry, add 1 tablespoon liquid per one cup flour.
Liquids evaporate faster in all cooking processes.
Flour
  • Add 1 to 4 tablespoons at 5,000 feet, more at higher altitudes.
  • Cookie dough used in a cookie press may need less flour.
  • For self-rising flour, use only high altitude-adjusted recipes.