Monday, December 21, 2009

Delishy Fishy

Those of you that know me, know me well enough to understand that I'm not a huge fan of anything that comes out of water (other than sea vegetables--seaweed and such). If I eat meat, I should be able to identify where the bones are, and it shouldn't require much effort to get the food from my plate to my belly: i.e. I like a good Nebraska steak. However, over the past year or so, thanks to the hubby figure, I have opened my mind, and literally, my mouth, to sea meats. That's right, I started eating fish! Granted, I stick to the muscley, meaty fish like salmon, swordfish and the likes, but dare I admit, I kinda like it!

This past weekend, we paid a second visit to Laterna on Tunus Caddesi here in Ankara. Of course I had a minor anxiety attack, thinking I'd be obliged to eat those slimy sea creatures like calamari, squid or octopus (IIIICKKK!). After all, Laterna is a Greek taverna serving cuisine primarily from the Aegean region. I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to a bountiful table of meze (this was a "Raki Sofrasi" night...) including liver (my fave), a seaweed assortment (yum-o), hellim salad (what I fondly refer to as my favorite "squeaky cheese"--hey, it squeaks when you chew it!), and much more. As the main course, we were treated to the fresh catch of the day, grilled levrek (sea bass), and my god, if my tastebuds could dance, I know would have been up on the table enjoying the ear candy from our friends Umit, Can and Kuddsi. I consumed far too much raki (anise flavored liquor) for my own well being, topped off by some champagne from a guy celebrating his engagement, and a nightcap of mastika and Turkish coffee. Not to be forgotten is the mysterious eggplant dessert (for which I was handed the recipe straight from the chef) and irmik tatlisi. Needless to say, for a good seven hours, my senses were delighted. I will definitely be visiting Laterna more often...perhaps even for my 30th birthday V1.1 celebration!

Afiyet olsun!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bathing in History...

I'm sure my germophobe friends will really have a heyday with this one...

Seeing as public bathing was thrown out with the baby AND the bathwater (yes, I made a funny) an uber long time ago in the US, I have always appreciated the opportunity while in Turkey to get cleaner than I do in the privacy of my own home. When I lived in Istanbul, it really was a weekly ritual to visit the Cemberlitas Hamami (built in 1584, mind you). I would go in late on Friday nights, when noone else was around and have the entire, steamy, half-lit dome to myself. Yesterday was my first experience with an Ankara hamam, so of course I had no choice but to go to Ankara's oldest and best: the Karacabey Hamami. This hamam was built in 1440, out-aging Cemberlitas by a good 130 years, and in my estimation is just a tad smaller.

We started our bathing experience by changing into suitable bathing attire (swimsuits and such), which is a notable difference from Cemberlitas, where bathers and bathgivers alike freely roam, uninhibited by such cloth and confidently ignorant to cellulite. I presume the blissful ignorance to cellulite is the utter lack thereof--thanks to the long hours in the hamam, I learn. Men and women bathe separately here, but apparently there are still a few hamams that exist where that is not the case.

I take my towel, shampoo, kese (the rough, goathair washcloth thing) and my locker key into the first chamber which is steamy, but not terribly warm. The hamam is packed on a Saturday, so it's strictly one-way traffic through the narrow and low passages from one chamber to the next. My friend seems to know EVERYONE here, which makes me fondly remember all of the ladies from Cemberlitas who without judgement commented every ounce of fat that came or went from my body from week to week, and lovingly named me "Melek" (angel). While she's having her gossip, I begin in one of the small "rooms" off the main section. In these small closets there is running water and marble basins that you dip your little bowl into, in order to saturate yourself completely. This continues casually as we chat with our neighbors about who has had babies, what Behlul will do about Nihal on Ask-i Memnu, and cheery banter about saggy boobs and greying hair. Then, I was called to the gobek tasi, which is the huge, heated stone platform in the center of the room. With the natural light of the small glass openings in the ceiling floating onto my shoulders, I was ordered around to lie down, turn over, on your side, sit up, bend your knees, tilt your neck until I begin to see little rolling pins of dead, dirty skin curl up on my body from the lady who was scrubbing me with my kese. Then for the shocking part--SPLASH--right over my head comes a not-so-warm bucket of water to wash away all that nastiness. I return to my "closet" to continue the "bath" part, which is actually laying around again with my eyes half closed until I feel like sitting up and soaping up. After I wash my hair, we go out to sit in the cool room around the iron furnace, where most people are drinking tea and half watching a rerun of Ask-i Memnu, and I'm thankful for the affirmation that I'm not the only one who is addicted! A few minutes later, I'm called into the massage room (there is an option for oil massage or soap massage--I chose oil), and Fidan Hanim pushes with her elbows, fingers and wrists until the heavy-duty knots in my back start to unfurl. Fifteen minutes later, I retreat to the cooling room again to see if I had missed anything on Ask-i Memnu, only to find it was commercial time (not the 2 minute commercial break like in the US). I had time to run back to my locker, change my clothes, blowdry my hair and hang out a bit before the series came back on. By that time, my friend was ready, too, and we bundled up to brave the Ankara sleet, and she informed me that the hamam is has been rented by the same family for more than 50 years from a government foundation that owns it, and therefore, the renters don't pay for the water. A bathhouse where the owner doesn't pay for the water...sounds like they won't be throwing THAT baby out with the bathwater anytime soon!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Behlul kacar...

Lately I've been the kid sneaking into the kitchen at midnight to get a cookie from the cookie jar. Minus the fact that I'm not a kid, and my cookies, that forbidden food, is the Turkish "dizi" (TV series) "Ask-i Memnu"...and I'm not sneaking anymore. I'm an outright addict.

Ask-i Memnu (Forbidden Love) is based on a book written in the early 1900s by Halit Ziya Usakligil. The original book uses "old" Turkish, which sadly, few people can understand these days. (I heard there was a newer printing of it with the new Turkish words in parenthesis.) The character names are kept pretty much the same, as far as I understand, and it makes it really cool to hear uncommon names like Behlul, Bihter, Peyker, Besir, etc... The story, being a typical romantic drama, has a tangled plot, so I, not wanting to miss a beat, have been watching the series from Season 1, Episode 1. I'm on Episode 19 now, which is quite an accomplishment--Turkish "dizi" are much longer than American TV shows per episode, hitting the 90 minute spot, without commercials, I might add!

I won't torture the readers of this blog (like I do to my husband, who hasn't been sucked into this TV trap), by giving my personal "ozet" (summary) of the plot. Yet I do feel an inexplicable urge to share a little snippet about the character that everyone loves to hate: Behlul. I liken him to Sawyer on Lost (another TV fetish): handsome, suave and charming womanizer. You want to hate him, but part of you just knows that in spite of his hankering for hanky panky with the ladies, he is really looking for love. Also like Sawyer, he has created his on liturgy of nicknames and catchphrases, particularly for Nihal (his favorite is "suratsiz"which means "crabby"). My favorite is Behlul's trademark expression: "Behlul kacar"...

And for now, so do I. Allison kacar...

Turkish Style Pesto

Of course this recipe for pesto is really no different from other pestos, but I decided to call it "Turkish style" because I use a Turkish cheese instead of parmesan, and it turns out equally (I'd even venture to say MORE) delicious!

Pesto Parts:

  • 2 bunches of fresh basil, washed and stems removed
  • 1/4 c pine nuts
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4-1/3 c grated aged (eski) kasar cheese (if you can't find it, you can substitute parmesan here)
  • 1 1/2 c olive oil
  • Salt
Pesto Preparation:
  • Place the basil, garlic and pine nuts in the food processor and pulse until smooth
  • Pulse in the cheese
  • While blending, add in the olive oil until smooth
  • Add salt to taste 
I luuuhuuhhuuve pesto, and this was a treat to make. My favorite preparation of it is to stir into cooked pasta with chopped grape tomatoes and roasted pine nuts. Deeelish. 

Afiyet olsun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Very BabaZula Thanksgiving

Since most people eat Turkey on Thanksgiving, and I'm in Turkey (waka waka waka...oldest joke in the book), I did the natural thing and devoured the music of BabaZula at IF Performance Hall. If you don't know much about BabaZula, you should become familiar with their self-defined style of "oriental dub," which is a decently vague description. A beautiful, spellbinding mix of what I'll call "rock 'n Roma," with instruments ranging from the traditional (saz, davul, and wooden spoons) to the modern (drum machines and an electrified saz--natch). From their website:

Baba ZuLa go to great lengths to provide their fans with a unique live show experience. Their ritual like performances are a mixture of disciplines of art, often featuring belly dancers, elaborate costumes, poetry, theatre and live drawing, delivering viewers a tantalizing audio-visual feast.

On Thanksgiving, if you can't gorge yourself on Turkey, be thankful that you can indulge in the audio-visual feast that is BabaZula. It's far more enjoyable to be in a music trance than a food coma.