Istanbul and a short hiatus

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I’ve just come out of a jet-lagged fog following a whirlwind couple of weeks in Turkey.  Having fallen in love with this incredible place over the past few months, I was eager to regale you with stories of tucked-away corners of Istanbul and treasures from the bazaar.  Instead, I found myself with a front row seat to a brutal cat-and-mouse game, running from riot police, washing tear gas out of my hair and clothes, and watching a patently disproportionate government crackdown on largely peaceful protesters.  Day after day, from the mid afternoon to the wee hours of the morning, protesters pushing toward the park were rammed back with chemicals, water cannons and police in body armor.

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Spice Shopping in Turkey

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I’ve come to understand that I’m a very food-motivated person.  It shapes how I travel, the destinations I choose, and what I bring home, which invariably includes some sort of herb, spice, or cooking instrument.  I vividly remember the smell of the red pepper and cumin seeds from our favorite Beijing chuan(r) restaurant that made the flames dance and our mouths water.  When I think of Paris, the heady, salty smell of poulet à l’estragon twirling on spits at my local farmers’ market is one of the first things that comes to mind.  I remember biting into a piece of aarull, dried on the roof of our host family’s ger in Mongolia and wishing desperately that I had the language skills to ask more about it.   And, the first time I tried durian — wooh, my!  These are the things that burn into my memory and make me ache for a place.

Turkey was yet another adventure in tastes and smells and a riot of color.  The bright reds of tomatoes and spice pastes, bright greens of grilled peppers and pistachios, deep purple pickled cabbage and charred eggplants.  Big mezze spreads with pillowy, seeded bread gave way to steaming plates of kebabs and grilled vegetables.  It was a delicious couple of weeks.

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Pistachios and Baklava in Gaziantep

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In the States, we generally think of balkava as a homogenous thing – at least I did.  Actually, it’s a whole category of pastries of different shapes, colors and textures made with some combination of sugar, nuts, honey, cream, butter, and phyllo dough.  The nuts used are generally walnuts or pistachios, but pine nuts and hazelnuts are not entirely uncommon.  In all its many variations, baklava is a beloved dessert from Greece to Iran and from Syria to the Balkans.

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Lahmacun

IMG_1036Lahmacun, a popular snack in Turkey, is often described as a “thin-crust pizza.”  Personally, I find that rather misleading.  I think the often cheesy, boat-shaped pide are probably closer to a Turkish take on pizza.  Lahmacun is, to me, in a class of its own.    

The lahmacun you find in restaurants, kebab shops, and even peoples’ homes, is often baked at local bakeries in industrial-sized ovens and brought back to be reheated as needed.  Although bakeries (“firini”) here advertise lahmacun, you have to go to a restaurant or kebab stand to actually purchase one.

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Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum

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Well-known for its food, the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep (or Antep) also houses the largest mosaic museum in the world, the Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum.  With admission at only 8 TL per person, I visited the most incredible collection of mosaics I’ve ever seen for about the price of a kebab.

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National Postal Museum

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The U.S. Postal Service has been in the forefront of the 24-hour news cycle lately, or at least that’s how things look from the non-stop-CNN-barrage that is my office kitchen.  While I think I can learn to live in a world where I have to wait until Monday for a package transported over the weekend, the prospect of canceling Saturday deliveries seems to have provoked a bit of a panic (will they or won’t they?!?).  I don’t propose to know the ultimate fate of mail delivery in the digital age, but a part of me that remains somewhat resistant to change understands the protectionist response.  Getting a letter or card — that someone took the time to write, slip into an envelope and post — tops an email any day.  I look forward to holiday cards from my mother (she even sends them for Halloween and Thanksgiving) and letters from friends who vehemently keep to the pen-to-paper correspondence.  I just received a card from my grandmother and it made my day.

For all of these reasons, I’ve been pestering Z to go with me to visit the National Postal Museum, and he finally relented.  Regular readers will already know that I love exploring quirky museums and monuments — little depositories that zoom in on one industry, hobby, person or anything someone out there had enough interest in to create a space dedicated to its memory.  This one in particular, devoted to mail and the postal service, appeals to that little geek girl in me that watched with rapt curiosity as Mr. Rogers explained where crayons come from.

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Vietnamese Corner: ‘Hidden’ Pho on Capitol Hill

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Buds are appearing on branches as little bulbs timidly peek out of the ground here in the District.  It’s been gloriously mild and light out for my evening runs and we even fired up the grill one night last week.  Then, as though to remind us that we’re still days away from the first day of spring, we plunged back into a cold spell.  I reluctantly reached for my down jacket and gloves as we headed out to the farmers’ market.  Discouraged and impatient for spring as I was, the cold weather gave me the perfect excuse to go explore a little place in neighborhood that has intrigued me for a while.

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Link Roundup (March 2013)

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Are you all ready for Spring?  I am.  I’m craving green vegetables, blooms and evening sunlight.  I dream of fresh shelling peas and green garlic and the promise of juicy tomatoes just around the corner.  A butternut squash on my counter was giving me sideways glances for weeks, and I was just able to bring myself to cook it tonight.  Just when I thought the frigid days were behind us, yet another cold front has descended on the District.  We burned through our firewood and braved the cold with our little metal cart to get more.  I’ve enjoyed cozying up to the fire, making stews and drinking rich, dark beers, but I’m starting to feel cooped up.  This week, the first farmers are returning to the market and a few anxious little buds popped up on the tree outside our front door.  So, I’m putting my faith in Punxsutawney Phil and hoping that warmer months are just around the corner.

In the meantime, here are a few little things from various corners of the internet:

Les expressions imagées de la langue française.

Daisy’s photos of the Louvre,

and these incredible photos.

Alexander Calder’s Fanciful Kitchen Utensils.

A musical map of Paris! (via Invisible Paris)

Those sprinkled sugar cookies I craved as a kid walking through the grocery store with my dad get a makeover.

We’ve gone through two batches of this, putting little scoops into our work lunch salads.  Delicious!

Other things we’ve been cooking lately: these pita breads, this ridiculously simple braised bok choy, and this pasta, perfect for when you’re almost too tired to cook but takeout just won’t do.

I’m supremely jealous of Ann and David’s beautiful cassoulet bowls.

This really hit home.

And to end on a serious note, my good friends Andrew Maki and Megan Chapman at the Social and Economic Rights Action Center are helping fight forced evictions of communities in Lagos, Nigeria.  You can read more about the growing problem here, watch their heart wrenching video, and if you feel so inclined, help spread the word.

à plus,

S

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3 Stars Brewing Company

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Started by a homebrewer and the former beer director at the Big Hunt, 3 Stars Brewing Company is the latest addition to the growing number of craft breweries popping up in the District.  Their facilities in Takoma are open Saturdays for tours, bottle sales and growler fills.  However, when you pull up to this warehouse-turned-brewery, you’ll also see people leaving with plastic tubing and bags of hops underarm.  3 Stars has held onto its roots and their homebrew shop — the only one in DC — sells just about anything you’d need to start making your very own batches.  (I’ll leave the brewing to the experts, but to each their own.)

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The Pretzel Bakery

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Is there anything better than freshly baked bread?  A warm baguette on a chilly evening in Paris never made it home without the crouton taken as a reward for whoever had to go and fetch it.  Even the smell of freshly baked bread apparently makes us nicer people.  Warm and soft, it’s delicious on its own but a little knob of butter wouldn’t be unwelcome either.  Bagels, pitas, even the humble dinner roll are exponentially better the sooner they get to you from that hot oven.

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