Friday, April 29, 2011

Touring Turkey - A Video Intro to Cappadocia

Hey, all!

I'll be shifting gears next week with the Turkey posts and moving from Istanbul to the Cappadocia region. Honestly, Cappadocia was my favorite part of the trip and the place I anticipated seeing the most. I promise you'll be really intrigued by the beauty and history there.

Since it's 2011, and I'm supposed to be upping my blogging game (watch out now!), I made sure to do some on-location vlogging. Here's the first of a few pieces of video/vlogs that I hope to show you here on the blog. I'll also be adding some video to the Facebook page that will not appear here, so be sure to check that out.

Some things to know about this video/vlog:

1. I say "um" a little too much. It's my first video. I promise they get better. :)

2. Husband J was not a very good camera person. We joked about how I was talking about something, and he was still focusing on me. He gets better at it.

3. Pronunciation key. It's Kappa DOH KEY UH ....NOT Kappa DOH SEE UH for Cappadocia. Also GOH REHM EH not GOH REEM for Goreme. I was wrong in this video. Oops!!

Some of the videos will be completely unedited because they're more fun and better that way; however please bear with me as I learn video editing. You guys don't mind, right?

Here it goes:

A Video Intro to Cappadocia from TAOTerri on Vimeo.

Also since I was born a British subject, I want to send a quick "Congratulations!" to the newly married Prince William and Princess Catherine. My advice to them: Marriage is good. Cherish each other.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Touring Turkey - Hotel Sultania, Istanbul

In my old age (hee!), I've realized that I like to spend a little extra on hotels if I can. Not necessarily 5 star (we were NOT rolling up to the Four Seasons, y'all), but a little extra comfort and perhaps some quirky details aren't so bad. For the first portion of our time in Istanbul, we stayed at the Hotel Sultania, and it was definitely full of both comfort and some off-beat flavor.

Each room is named after a wife of an Ottoman sultan. The rooms mix contemporary decor with Turkish details.

Our bed

Each room is named after a wife of an Ottoman sultan. Ours was named after Sehsuvar, who was originally from the Ukraine, taken to be a part of the sultan's harem and then his wife. The hotel provides a little narrative about her.

There are some things you should know about this hotel. There's kind of a bathroom and kind of not. The basin area is actually right next to your bed and is cordoned off by a very pretty screen. I'm not describing this very well, so just check the pic below. Since we didn't splurge for space at this hotel I didn't mind. It's in the old city, where all of the buildings are rather small. We weren't going to be spending very much time in our hotel room in Istanbul anyway.

The toilet and shower have one door that serves as both the door to the shower and between the toilet area and the rest of the room. Essentially it means that one person can't take a shower while the other uses the toilet (ya know, just in case you want to do that).

Shower/Toilet area with the door closed
So there's the shower/toilet area. Kind of a racy painting, isn't it? Girlfriend is wearing a thong and pasties. I'm not making this up. I had no idea the room would look like this.

Another thing you should know is that there is lots of funky lighting throughout the room.

Underneath the bed

Around the TV

It's kinda fun to appreciate and admire, although it does get to be a pain when you are looking for the light switches to turn off all of those lights right before going to bed at night.

I will say that I really liked many of the Turkish details like this little tray.

When you open it, there are little treats.

I think it was little date bar with pistachios covered in coconut. They were good and were refilled each day. I appreciated a free snack.
Here's what I thought of the Hotel Sultania, and I'll do it in the form of a Pros & Cons list:


1. Cute decor and room - While obviously not for everyone (see above re: bathroom), I did like the room and thought it was comfortable, clean and modern.

2. Great breakfast buffet - You've already seen what I had for breakfast, but there was something a little different each day that we were there.

3. Centrally located to all major sites- Hotel Sultania is just minutes away from all of the major sites in Sultanahmet that I've blogged about so far, If you have a short time in Istanbul and want to be close to the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sophia yet not far from the Galata Bridge, then this is a fabulous location.

4. Cute on-site gym, spa and pool - Although this area of the hotel is not that big (it's actually quite teeny), it's still nice to have. Unfortunately, they charge 10 Euro to use the sauna and hammam (Turkish bath) even if you stay there. I think it should be free.

5. Extremely helpful staff - A woman named Ozlem was the concierge and was very nice and helpful to us. She also sent an e-mail after we left asking about our stay. I appreciate gestures like that.

6. Free transfer from the airport - A free transfer from the airport is included. I have to admit that it was nice to not have to think about a taxi when we landed (not like that would have been a problem). Our flight was 1 1/2 hours late, and the driver waited. A nice perk for sure.

1. The walls are paper thin. I mean really thin. How did we know? Let's just say we heard one set of neighbors "enjoying" themselves one night. The other night, I think our neighbors (perhaps a different set?) thought Husband J was watching TV at a noise level that they didn't appreciate. Banging on the walls ensued. I have to admit that I might have agreed with them (on the noise level not the banging). We also heard some folks right outside our window. They sounded like they were right in the room.

2. Centrally located but in the middle of lots of touristy restaurants/touristy central. I guess you take the good with the bad. Maybe it was because we were there during the slower season, but sometimes we felt like we couldn't walk without having to stave off folks from the nearby restaurants and bars trying to get us to come in. I know they're just doing their job, and I also shouldn't count this against the hotel.

Not so bad cons, right? Would we stay there again? Yes. Recommend to others? Why not? I have to admit that if we do go back, I'd like to stay at the other Istanbul hotel we stayed in at the end of our trip. That's for another post. :)

Hotel Sultania
Ebusuud Cadessi
Mehmet Morak Sokak No. 4
Sirkeci, Istanbul

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Touring Turkey - Turkish Food Rundown, Part 1

If I have not mentioned this before, I didn't have a bad meal the entire time I was in Turkey. Whether it was a local spot or a higher end place, everything I tasted was flavorful and often unique for me. My favorite part of Turkish food was that fact that there were elements that I recognized from other Mediterranean cuisines yet some distinctive cooking techniques (at least to me anyway). I'll highlight some of the food we ate in Istanbul in this post.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to really sample as many restaurants I would have liked. This time around jet lag hit both Husband J and me pretty hard. We didn't venture too far in the evenings from our hotel, but we still had some great meals at Pasazade and Imbat in the Sultanahmet (the old city) during our first three days in Istanbul. Let's talk food!

Bread. I think I could live off of bread. At Pasazade we had three types. Sesame seeds are pretty common sight on Turkish bread, especially on Simit, which is a bread resembling a wheel that's often eaten for breakfast. The rectangular bread below was spongy and perfect. Do you ever have to tell yourself to stop eating the bread before the meal comes? That was me here. We had this wonderfully unexpected spread of feta with peppers to go with it. That could have been my meal.

Meat! Although popular as a take-out option, Turks eat kofte anywhere.

Kofte with yogurt sauce
A mix of lamb and veal meatball (more like meatloaf, I guess) topped with yogurt sauce accompanied by roasted tomato & pepper

Meat and fruit. Ottoman cuisine often uses either fresh or dried fruit as part of a side dish or garnish for meat. The most common types of fruit used are apricot, plums, dates, apples, grapes and figs.

Mistanya Kuzu Firin
Baked lamb marinated with fresh spices serve on mashed artichoke + potato with a cranberry chestnut sauce

Chicken with apple, quince and apricot on mashed potatoes

I was totally expecting the fruit to make the dish quite sweet especially with the chicken, but it really melded with the herbs and spices it was stewed in. What a way to include an extra food group in the meal! I'm used to sweet and salty flavor profiles, but the balanced mix of fresh spices and fruit flavors were intriguing. I'd never had anything like this.

Vegetarian dishes are common, and veggies are often mixed with tomato, spices and served in their natural juices. Here's a prime example:

Roasted spinach roots

Pasta..well, sort of. Manti is by far my new favorite Turkish dish. I also had the best manti I had the whole trip at Pasazade. Manti is essentially folded triangles of dough filled with minced meat (often lamb) mixed with onions and spices. It's often served with a garlic yogurt sauce (Pasazade's included spicy tomato sauce) and a dash of dried spices such as oregano or red pepper powder. AWESOME!!

Of course we saved room for dessert.

I had described Helva before. This one was a lot lighter than the helva we had at our hotel. Some helvas are made with flour and others with nut butter, so drastically different textures. Pasazade's was made of semolina flour, eggs, and sugar with a comforting vanilla flavor and topped with vanilla ice cream. At least that's what the restaurant says. This helva seemed crumbly, which would be the consistency of a helva made with nut-butter (like tahini or sunflower seed butter). Who cares? It tasted great.

Irmik Helva
The ice cream was off the hook. I have no idea what they put in all of the dairy products in Turkey. All of the yogurt, ice cream, etc. were phenomenal. Husband J says it's because they don't have the pasteurization requirements we do in the U.S. What do you think?

Turkish Delight
Turkish Delight is an invention of the Ottomans (what isn't? :)). It's actually a generic name for a variety of bite-sized sweet treats made of gelled starch and sugar. Sometimes Turkish Delight will include dates, walnuts, pistachios or hazelnuts. They are dusted with powdered sugar, so beware if you are wearing black!

I hope you enjoyed the quick run down of Turkish food. The funny thing is that I have MORE to show you when we get to Cappadocia, which we will be next week. Turkish food has so many variations. I've got a Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood, and I'm dying to know if their manti is any good.

Pasazade and Imbat are in Sultanahmet and a little pricier than some other restaurants that will literally drag you off the street to get you through the door. Both restaurants are totally worth it and a great value given the level of food and service. Imbat has a gorgeous rooftop view, which we didn't see because it was raining at night (our great luck with weather!)

Ibn Kemal Sokak 5/A
Sirkeci, Istanbul

Hudavendigar Cadessi 34
Sirkeci, Istanbul
On the roof of the Orient Express Hotel

All dishes pictured are from Pasazade with the exception of the lamb dish.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Touring Turkey - Medusa & Mood Lighting at the Basilica Cistern

I wasn't really sure what I would see when I visited the Basilica Cistern aka the Yerebatan Sarayi. I read about it in my guidebook, but it didn't really hint that it would look a little something like this:

A major underground structure built during the 6th century (it's OLD) under a former spot for commerce and art in Roman times that now has some serious mood lighting.

Cisterns are supposed to trap and hold water. This one is 105,000 square feet (9,800 square meters) large and at one point held 2, 800,000 cubic feet (80,000 cubic meters) of water for Istanbul. It makes sense since it was near Topkapi Palace and so much of the major mosques and public areas of the old city.

Now you stroll through it, or use it as one big fountain.

Lots of coins in the water

Vaulted ceilings

I also want to say that for a cistern, there is some super random stuff down there. A column with what are commonly called Nazars. They are a form of good luck in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures used to ward off evil/the evil eye or gaze. I guess you need that type of protection underground?

A Medusa head... 'cause I totally associate cisterns with Medusa? No one knows exactly why this is even here, by the way.

Medusa upside down

Medusa on her side


The Basilica Cistern is not what I expected but by far the most out of the ordinary place to visit next to all of the major sites in Istanbul's old city.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Food Porn Friday- A Vegan Afternoon with Mom

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A Happy Belated Birthday to my Mom! She's such a cutie and a young 'un. I think when she was my age I was 9. DOH! I want to take this time to publicly thank her for my love of food especially healthy, whole food. If anything, my Mom taught me balance. Indulge a little but eat great home cooked meals full of fresh veggies, and juice your vegetables if you can. My Mom flirted off and on with being a vegetarian and finally made the switch over 10 years ago. In the past several years, she's begun to become a vegan and avoid milk products in particular (although she still likes the occasional leather shoe. Can she be considered a vegan?). She's been a little disappointed that I have been incorporating meat back into my diet. I can't be the perfect daughter. :)

For her birthday, it was hard to find a place to take her. NYC is full of vegetarian places, but many of them don't have the special occasion feel to them. Husband J and I took Mom to Pure Food & Wine, a raw, vegan organic place, last year but honestly weren't feeling it. It was super expensive, and I just think I like my food cooked if it's not a salad, sushi, carpaccio, etc. Did I mention it was a little overpriced? This year I decided to take her to one of our old veggie standbys, Zen Palate, a pan-Asian vegan restaurant.

There are multiple Zen Palate locations, but I miss the old one in Union Square. It was a bi-level space with modern Asian-inspired decor. The restaurant lost the space, and now it's a TGI Friday's. Ugh! I don't hate chains (Hello, Cheesecake Factory!!!), but I had one of the most inedible meals of my entire life at a TGI Friday's. Anyhoo, another Zen Palate opened up in the same area, and I decided to treat Mom to one of our old favorites.

So, how was it? A little disappointing.

Kale & Seaweed Salad with tofu and ginger vinaigrette for Mom
She thought it was way too cold for a salad. I agreed with her. Salad should be cold, but they shouldn't be downright frigid.

Wonton Soup for me
Those definitely aren't pork wontons. Most likely seasoned gluten.

Curry Supreme for Mom
Soy with potatoes and carrots in a mild curry sauce with brown rice and a veggie spring roll. My Mom laughs at me when I take pics of food. She started eating anyway. Oh's my Mom. :)

Rose Petals for me
Soy Crepes with Wolfberry Seeds (they looked like red beans) and garden vegetables (carrots, cabbage & broccoli) in rice ginger sauce with brown rice and a veggie spring roll

(There are some dishes with gluten protein and seitan as well. We both seemed to gravitate towards soy that day.)

My main course was good not great. The sauce was fine but way too thick and almost goopy. My Mom asked, "Do the same people run the place?" Unfortunately, the non-existent "I'm too busy doing other things" kind of service didn't help either. Our good memories of Zen Palate were gone with their old location.

After Zen Palate, I surprised my Mom by taking her to Babycakes, a vegan bakery in the Lower East Side. My Mom is an awesome baker and has been experimenting lately with vegan baking (I don't think the baking has rubbed off on me yet :) ). I was a little skeptical about a vegan, gluten-free, in some cases sugar-free bakery. Aren't some of those things the good parts about baked goods? Hmm...

The Babycakes Philosophy

Babycakes shop. It's teeny!

We grabbed several things to try at home.

Spelt Vanilla Cupcake (Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free)
Considering that it's spelt and not even flour, I have to say that this was pretty decent. For those of you with gluten intolerance this isn't for you; but if you have wheat allergies, it might be just the trick. The conclusion that my mother and I came to was that you need to eat the cake with the frosting. They need each other. Really.

Carrot Cake with Vanilla Frosting (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free)
Not bad. The cake was actually a nice moist but springy consistency. I sent most of it home with Mom.

Agave Brownie (Gluten Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free)
Nope. Sorry. It was more like a chocolate muffin than a brownie but there was really not much of a chocolate taste at all. Actually I couldn't really figure out WHAT that taste was. I know when you're not using eggs that it can be hard to replicate creaminess, and when you're trying not to use traditional sweeteners, you start to lose some of the traditional tastes of chocolate. I think that's the case here. Not tasty (and I really wanted it to be!).

Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free)

Awesome! Amazing vanilla "cream" filling. Smooth and sweet. The supple cookie was able to sustain all of that filling, and the filling didn't overpower any of that good chocolate taste. It blended well just like a sandwich. I'm going to go back specifically for these.

Any vegan bakers out there? What are your sources for good vegan baking? My Mom is always looking to try a new recipe. Any good vegan restaurants or bakeries near you?

Happy Weekend, all! Please enjoy your last days of Passover and Easter/Resurrection Sunday.

Zen Palate
There are multiple Zen Palate locations in Manhattan. We went to the Union Square one.
115 East 18th Street (between Park Avenue South & Irving Place)
New York, New York

248 Broome Street (between Orchard & Ludlow Street)
New York, New York
There are also locations in Los Angeles and Walt Disney World (alrighty then!)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Touring Turkey - A Letter to the Blue Mosque

Oh dearest, Blue Mosque.

You're majestic. Walking towards you and seeing you standing there made me realize why you're one of the most visited sites in all of Istanbul.

Inner courtyard

I looked up, and you showed me your exquisitely tiled ceilings. I understood why all of that blue tile made people call you the Blue Mosque (even though your real name is the Sultanahmet Mosque).

Ceiling detail

Your prayer area is so open, and let in light even with the cold, drizzly day outside.

Even your minbar is spectacular. I can see how early worshippers here would have been awestruck listening to the imam give sermons from there.

Even though I was only able to visit for a few minutes, I just want to let you know that I appreciated every aspect of you...even with all of the men who aggressively petitioned us to be our "tour guides" and faked being friendly so that they could whisk us away to their carpet shop. I know you can't help that. ;)

See you again someday?


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Touring Turkey - The Ottomans are Ballers: Topkapi Palace

I don't remember much about my world history classes from middle and high school. Even after this trip to Turkey, I am still confused by who was sultan when and how long they reigned. What I can remember from this trip is that the Ottomans were no joke. At its height, their kingdom stretched from as far as Budapest to the north, Azerbijan to the east, Algiers in the southwest/North Africa and parts of the Sudan at its southern tip. Yep, they ran things, so I don't think I should have been all that surprised by the the fact that Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of the sultan and his court, was still in such amazing shape and that it still held so many treasures.

Even the front gate shows us that this place is grand.

The Gate of Salutation

Closeup of the Gate of Salutation

There are many beautiful rooms to see that give you a glimpse of what life was like in the royal Ottoman court.

With its series of separate courtyards in Topkapi Palace, there is enough that I could probably write a book about this place. However, the one thing that I could not shake was the fact that the Ottomans really liked them some jewels. Folks, the Ottoman were ballers. Maybe there is an Ottoman Turkish word for "bling"? All I can say is that they really liked shiny things: armor with diamonds (was the shininess to distract the enemy?), swords with rubies, gold everywhere... I can't be mad at them. I like my shiny stuff, too.

There's gold on the ceilings.

Their blankets even had gold. Here's one of the Sultan's blankets.

Close-up of the blanket
Do you see the gold flowers woven into the fabric?

The water fountains are gold.
In front of the Sultan's Library

There's so much more than this though. Unfortunately I couldn't take pics of many of the notable things that I would love to show you all, so I had to go to other sources.

Topkapi Dagger

This was supposed to be a gift from Sultan Mahmud I to the Nadir, the Shah of Iran at that time. Unfortunately, the shah got killed while the Ottomans were making their way there to drop off his present. Oops! :( I think the Ottoman are great gift givers. What do you think? ;) This is also the prize to be stolen in a 1960's heist movie appropriately titled Topkapi.

Husband J and I went into yet another room in the former Treasury area, and I got a little excited when I saw something else I wouldn't mind admiring all day.

The Kasicki Diamond aka the Spoonmaker Diamond

Husband J, are you reading? It's only 86 carats. You can start saving up for our 50th Anniversary. Just kidding everyone (that includes you, Husband J)! :) This is the fourth largest diamond in the world. They have one person who just stands right in front of it all day. The origins of the diamond range from stories that a fisherman thought it was a beautiful, shiny rock and traded it to a spoonmaker in exchange for three wooden spoons (hence the Spoonmaker moniker) to the possibility that it was Napoleon's mother's diamond; and she sent it to the Ottoman's as a bribe to free her captured lover. Who knows?! This diamond is purrrty. I feel like there are many engagement rings that look like this now. The Ottomans were trendsetters. :)

If you come to Topkapi Palace make sure to see the Room of the Relics of Prophet, which have a footprint and tooth of the Prophet Muhammed and one of his handwritten letters. There are no pictures allowed there unfortunately. We also didn't get a chance to see the Harem area (where the sultan kept his "lady friends") because we went over there too late. It closes at 4pm, a few hours before the rest of the palace. If you come in the afternoon, go there first, and don't make our mistake.

Is there anything here that you'd want for your home? I'm in need of some new bedding, so maybe some gold ones will be in my future. :)

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