To Jasper by Train

About a year ago I ended up having one too many cocktails at an event and got a little aggressive with the silent auction. The result was my ‘winning’ a train trip for two on Via Rail through the Canadian Rockies to Jasper and a couple of nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.  I love a mini holiday and thought this would be really fun since we love train travel in Europe (cue aggressive bidding).  When I called with excitement to tell the husband he was a little caught off guard, but I assured him it would be fun, and that I would pay for it as the piece de resistance.

Before I left, I had to tell people about a thousand times that no, I was not taking the Rocky Mountaineer to Jasper; that I was in fact taking Via Rail and that shockingly yes, there are actually two trains that you can take. It also was surprising to people that we would be sleeping on the train, and in bunk beds no less!  As a sidebar, although the Rocky Mountaineer has superb food and wine I’m sure, it travels on the same tracks as Via and you have to spend the night at a hotel in Kamloops so it makes the journey a lot longer. It’s also about 3 times the price of our round trip tickets for a one way trip.

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I love train travel. It’s romantic, it’s scenic and gives you an opportunity to meet other travelers along the way. Yes, I am the rare specimen under the age of 50 who actually would prefer to talk to strangers than look at my phone.  It’s also, let’s face it, a very slow way to get anywhere in North America.  But when you factor in the travel time as an active part of your vacation the hours just fly by.  I read a whole book en route!!!

We left Vancouver at 8:30pm Friday night, just in time for wine and snacks in our cabin, and arrived in Japser at 4pm the next day. The reverse was a 3pm departure and a 9:30am arrival home. The times are great because you get daylight pretty much any time of year for the most spectacular section between Jasper, AB and Valemont, BC. The crowd was a good mix of tourists (couples and families) and people who were commuting across country for various reasons. I chatted with a nice girl who was going all the way to Toronto. She would spend 4 nights on board and would be arriving in Toronto around the same time we’d be leaving Jasper to come home after a 3 day vacation.

Our cabin was tight, but cozy and worked well for the two of us and our backpacks. Don’t bring a rolling suitcase on the train, trust me, you will regret that choice. We started out with two comfortable reading chairs that were converted by our very friendly porter to bunks at night. Inside was also a sink and shelf area and a tiny little toilet room. Each car has a shared shower that I wasn’t brave enough to use.

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We rolled out right on schedule and after getting settled, we wandered down to the bar car where we enjoyed very reasonably priced drinks. It was slow going heading out of Vancouver because we got hung up waiting for the bridge to drop so we could cross the Fraser in New West, but it was neat to see different areas of the same places you drive through from the train. By the time they kicked us out of the bar car at midnight we were just leaving the sleepy town of Mission.

We snuggled in for the night and woke up east of Kamloops the next morning. I can’t say it was the best sleep of my life, but I’ve certainly had worse. Ear plugs are essential and just plan that you’ll wake up a bunch of times and roll over and hopefully go right back to sleep. However, anyone who tells you that the train will rock you to sleep like a wee little baby is lying.  There’s a fair amount of screeching and lurching happening. And if you’re lucky enough to snag the top bunk there’s a handy net to ensure you don’t roll off in the night!

We were served breakfast and lunch on the way to Jasper, and dinner and breakfast on the return. I did have higher hopes for the food, thinking it would be similar to White Spot quality, but it was more like the cafeteria at Ikea minus the meatballs and Daim bar cake. You get to order off a menu (meat, fish or veg options) and there are fancy white tablecloths and ‘china’, which I think was actually Corelle.  Although it’s not the best meal you’ll have in your life, think of it as a novelty. You get to eat a three course meal while watching the world go by.  And who doesn’t want apple crumble with lunch!

Another thing to be aware of when traveling by train is that passenger rail, because it’s going the way of the dodo bird, gets put on hold anytime a freight train needs to access the tracks. In quite a few of the mountain passes the tracks are one way, so you end up waiting…a lot in our case.  At one point the train was stopped for over an hour and we watched about 6 freight trains go by. The good news is that despite delays we were only an hour late arriving in Jasper!

Now, about the scenery, which is probably the number one reason to take the train to Jasper. The Rocky Mountains are simply stunning. I’ve lived in BC for 12 years and having never been east of Kelowna being able to see a large part of our province from the domed panorama car was really exciting. Grab your seat early and hang onto it, because trust me, everyone wants those spots once the train starts making its way towards Mt. Robson.  You still get a good view from your cabin window, but the dome car is fantastic!

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I’d heard of Mt. Robson, but had never paid much attention to it or really seen any photos. But wow, what a beaut!  It’s considered the most prominent mountain in the Rockies and is used by climbers training for Everest. Because of its elevation at 3,954m it creates its own weather system at the top, which results in either the top, the bottom, or both being socked in most of the year. The entire mountain is usually only visible from the train about 14 days a year so we were thrilled we got an unobstructed view (thanks full moon). It was fun to sit and listen to all the oooohhhh’s and aaahhhhhh’s from the other people as they snapped away or essentially viewed the whole thing through their iPads. And sorry, but I have to rant about how annoying it is when people use these massive devices to take photos…lots of photos…blocking other people’s view…instead of just enjoying what’s around.  I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get a good shot through the smudged windows or iPad’s and decided to just sit and enjoy.

Once in Jasper we spent the next three days at the Jasper Park Lodge, wandering around the lake and enjoying our quaint cabin, an original part of the property from the 1930’s, which felt like a summer camp for grownups. It’s amazing how breathing the fresh mountain air just wipes you out.

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Jasper is a cute town with a couple streets of restaurants, bars and shops selling tourise junk.  We did the Maligne Caynon ice walk (go with a guide), and a dog sledding trip booked through Sun Dog Tours.  Dog sledding was a fun thing to do once, but it’s not something I need to do again. Sort of like hot air ballooning. It’s expensive, really cool, and provides great photo ops!  But after 3 days of being a tourist, sipping martinis in the lodge and watching herds of elk wander by we were ready to head back home.

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The train was a bit late coming in from Edmonton, so we asked the hotel to hold our bags while we walked into town.  They assured us they would bring them to the station 20 minutes prior to departure along with another couple who was getting on the train. Needless to say we had some issues with the bags and thought we might have to either leave without them, or miss the train (me=stressed).  But thankfully train travel is different than air travel. Our friendly porter from the trip out saw me looking very distraught and after I explained the situation he put his hand on my shoulder and said, with his thick Quebecois accent, “don’t worry, it’s the train, we wait for you”.  So there you have it, Via Rail really is a more human way to travel.

Take a train trip at least once in your life!  And support long distance commuter rail. It’s an important institution to maintain for future generations.

Mushroom & Truffled Ricotta Pasta Salad

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Vancouver these past few weeks. I like it, but I have some concerns about what this weather means for us down the road. Anyways, a rant about global warming isn’t appropriate here, but what I thought would be good to share is a little pasta salad I threw together the other night when it was too hot to cook. Usually this happens in July so I was totally throw off my game in terms of ingredients for a no cook meal.

I’ve seen this mushroom pasta salad on the menu at Tractor, but haven’t ever gotten around to trying it, so I figured I’d just make my own version. My IGA is pretty limited in terms of fun pasta shapes so I settled on the most exotic thing I could find which turned out to be  orecchiette, you know the ones that look like little hats?  But penne rigate or any small tubular pasta would work well with this.  Cause let’s face it, it kinda all tastes the same (I know, I just made a thousand Italian Nonnas cry).

I went for a mix of shiitake and cremini mushrooms, but if you can get your hands on chanterelles or something more exotic go for it!  Saute the mushrooms in some butter and olive oil (I like to mix the two for flavour), and then after they release their liquid and start to brown I added a splash of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper. Set the shrooms aside.

Use the best quality, full fat ricotta you can get for this. Add a couple tbsp of chopped herbs, whatever is in season is fine. I used mint, rosemary, oregano and basil (all from my new container garden thank you very much!) and to that I added some lemon zest.

Cook the pasta according to the directions and rinse it under cold water when it’s done to stop the cooking and cool it right down. Add the mushrooms, ricotta and a splash of good quality olive oil and then drizzle as much, or as little truffle oil over the top as you like.  Toss and serve at room temperature.

Although delicious the next day, this pasta salad looks its best when it’s fresh. The mushrooms tend to make the ricotta turn a brownish colour that isn’t super pleasing to the eyes after a night in the fridge.

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I served this up with a kale caesar to make it a meal and was pleased with the result. I’m sure you will be too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. cooked pasta (small shapes or tubes)
  • 4 cups diced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp lemon juice + zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil

If you want a bit of a kick I feel like you could get away with adding some chili flakes to this, but if it’s terrible I take no responsibility.

Bon appetit!

 

On Being a Dog Mom

Wow, it’s been a year since I’ve filled this space with my usual nonsense. I apologize to those of you who were coming here often for my tardiness! But the cool thing is that I can take a moment to reflect on what a year it’s been since my last post.  I like to think that I’m constantly shifting and expanding but week by week, and even month by month you don’t see the same progress that a whole year provides. It’s neat!

So much has changed in my life since my last post, so I’ll start with letting you all know that I can now officially touch my toes!  Sounds weird right, but a year ago I was the loser that had to crouch down to tie my shoes or pick up the piece of mail I dropped. Now, I am a yogi goddess (well at least that’s how I like to think of myself).  Yoga has calmed my mind, brightened my spirit, and it’s slowly letting my inner hippie out. Ooommmm

In September I went back to Iceland.  Yeah you’re reading that right, back to ICELAND, for the second time, where it’s cold, rainy, windy and full of vast nothingness and elves. Why go to Mexico and sit on the beach sipping margs when you can freeze your ass off on the side of a glacier. Man, I love Iceland, it’s so rad. I’ll post some more photos of that at some point…promise!

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Kirkjufellfoss, Iceland

And the highlight of the last year for me was the addition of Walter White, our mini labradoodle (yeah I’m that horrible person who bought a designer dog) who we have both become completely obsessed with. He arrived just before Christmas and threw a major wrench in our holiday plans requiring my mom to fly up from Portland for a week, but I just love this little ball of fluff so freaking much!

So since things have been a little slow and repetitive in the kitchen since his arrival I thought I’d share some thoughts on being a dog mom.  It’s a whole lotta work, even more for P who is a stay at home dog dad, having no office to retreat to. But when I come home and he rushes up all wiggles and wags with his tail hitting his face I just melt. Any amount of stress from my day goes right out the window, and then the work starts, ha ha.

Going from a two person DINK household where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want without a ton of consideration for anyone else to adding a small puppy that needs essentially constant supervision is a big change.  After the first couple days we looked at each other and said “what the hell have we done, he’s a monster”.  But after a few weeks of 1, 3 and 5am pee breaks, constant worrying about my un-vaccinated puppy catching some terrible disease just from going outside, and a lot of no’s we started to see progress.

Living in an apartment with really slow elevators isn’t a great place to raise a puppy. Unless like me, you have a large patio where you can install a Porch Potty!  The Porch Potty is a genius invention, that you could totally DIY, that enables your pup to do its business without having to rush it down 26 floors every time it has an accident. And let me tell you, puppies have A LOT of accidents!  Like more than I imagined possible. Bottom line, if you have outdoor space and you live in a condo, shell out the $300 for one of these things and you will thank yourself every day thereafter!

I would also recommend bell training your puppy. It’s about as lame as it sounds. You hang some overpriced bells on your door (or you get a bell and some rope from the $$ store) and then every time the pup has an accident you take it to the door and say something corny like “ring your bells” and then rush it outside to pee in hopes that said pup will actually make it. I was a skeptic at first but then 2 weeks in Walter started ringing the bells!  It was really magical.  What’s extra magical is that now he rings the bells when he needs to do business, AND when he just wants to sniff around, which conveniently is usually when I’m brushing my teeth, about to hop in the shower, making dinner or trying to relax. Special!

He’s almost 7 months old now…my baby…still growing and losing teeth all over the place. Our house now runs on a ‘sit’ based economy while we transition away from the former ‘treat’ based regime. His curiosity annoys me sometimes, as does my inability to find a pair of socks that matches, but having a dog of my own is so much fun and really rewarding. There is nothing better than a puppy snarffling around your bed on Saturday morning.

I’m sure if you’re reading this and have kids that you just threw up in your mouth a little, but I’m serious.  And hey, you can’t shove your kid in a cage on Friday night and run off to yoga and then grab a beer with your better half. I know Walter will never make me crappy stick figure drawings of our family, or tell me he loves me back, but when he looks up at me with his sweet little eyes I feel an immense amount of satisfaction.  He needs us and he will always need us, and the flip side of him not being able to speak is that he can never tell me he hates me, so for now, this works and our pack is complete.

And since I should probably offer a recipe after my very long hiatus, here’s Walter’s favourite stuffed kong filling:

  • all natural peanut butter, unsalted
  • plain full fat yogurt
  • chopped up apple
  • venison dog jerky bits or beef liver treats
  • 2 dried sardines

Dab a little bit of PB on the bottom of the kong to close the hole, then layer in yogurt, chopped apple and the dog treats. Wedge the sardines in so that the fish heads poke out of the top and seal it off with more PB. Freeze, and then give it to the pup to enjoy!

Yeah, I’m a dog mom, and I’m proud of it. We work hard to train Walter and make sure he’s happy and having fun. We also spoil him rotten, and I love every minute of it. Especially when I’m listening to jazz, trying to enjoy a glass of wine in the bathtub and he barrels in and tries to hop in the tub with me.  Those are really special moments!

Love ya W and the big boy you’re becoming!

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Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with French Lentils

Happy New New Year!  Wow, it’s 2015, I really can’t believe it.  Unfortunately 2014 was a dismal year on the blog for me; not because I wasn’t cooking a ton and doing fun things. In fact, I think my cooking reached a new level and I was doing so many fun things that I just didn’t get a chance to properly collect my thoughts in this space as often as I wanted.

I’m not making resolutions or promises to blog a lot this year, but we’ll see what happens. Two weeks ago I proclaimed this blog was dead, and now here I am, back at it.  Last night I created something so delicious and amazing that I just had to share it.  Also, 2015 should be an exciting year for me for a number of reasons. I’m starting a photography course tonight so that means better pictures to accompany these posts, and I have a a few fun trips planned this year.  In addition to a handful of weekend getaways, I’m off to the Carolinas for a wedding and reunion with my college friends in March, that will take me to Raleigh, and Charleston (yeah, I’m already hungry for that one), and then in September my dream of going back to Iceland is coming true.  Two years after our first visit and becoming completely obsessed with all things Icelandic we’ve decided to do a full island 11 day road trip!  We’re also taking a little side trip to Amsterdam to get our proper Euro fix.

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So now that we’re all caught up and re-acquainted, I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve learned.  It’s the ticket to perfectly roasted veggies.  Before you toss your veg on the sheet pan, rub a good thick layer of olive oil over it (also really great for moisturizing your hands while you cook).  Then throw down the veg, and drizzle more olive oil and salt and pepper on top.  This ensures that the side that roasts down first gets nice and caramelized in the oven.

And without further ado, the goods.  I had an amazing dinner at Pourhouse here in Vancouver just before Christmas that consisted of a cauliflower ‘steak’ on a bed of lentils with a yogurt raita and papadum’s.  To me it was the perfect plate of food for a vegetarian. So good in fact, that I left vowing to re-create it, which I did last night.  I just ate the leftovers at my desk and felt like I’d had lunch in a little Parisian bistro.  This dish is quintessentially French, it’s hearty, it’s healthy, and inexpensive to make.  The only thing I need to improve is my cauliflower cutting skills.  I only was able to get two actual ‘steaks’ because you need to cut all the way down to the stem.  But don’t worry, just toss whatever you get on a sheet pan and roast it up.

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Roasted Cauliflower Steak at Pourhouse

Roasted Cauliflower with French Green Lentils and Herbed Yogurt 

Pre-heat your oven to 400.

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 head white cauliflower, trimmed, sliced in half, and then cut into 3/4 in. steaks as best as you can (start from the larger inside pieces and work your way out)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the lentils:

  • 1 cup french green or de puy lentils
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • half a white onion or 2 small shallots diced
  • 1 tbsp herbs de provence
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • water, as needed

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt (honestly stop wasting your time with low fat dairy)
  • 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I used dill and mint)
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice

While the oven pre-heats, boil the lentils over medium high heat with the stock, veggies (feel free to add celery, leeks etc. to this one), and herbs. Cover and simmer about 25 min. until the lentils are tender, but retain their bite, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add water or more stock throughout this process as needed. I find cooking the lentils in stock vs. water gives a much richer flavour.

Place the cauliflower on an oiled roasting pan, drizzle more oil on top and season with sale and pepper. Roast for 20 min, turn carefully, and roast for another 12-15 minutes, until tender but crisp.

Mix up all the yogurt sauce ingredients and when you’re ready to plate, put a big scoop of lentils down first, top with a piece of cauliflower steak and then dollop of yogurt.

Bon appetit!

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My Roasted Cauliflower Steak

Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s fall.  In Vancouver we’re still having warm days, but the rain is picking up, and the leaves are starting to come off the trees.  That means it’s time to switch from salads to comfort foods, and one of the things I miss most being vegetarian is a good shepherd’s pie.  It’s an easy thing to make, but getting enough protein can be difficult if you’re just using mixed veggies.  So I came up with the idea of replacing ground beef or lamb with brown lentils.  I think the brown ones hold up a bit better than green ones, and they retain a bit of bite, which I like.

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I totally winged this one, and the result was nothing short of amazing…in my humble opinion.  Unfortunately it didn’t photograph well, but I find un-photogenic foods often taste the best.  I also haven’t fully raved about my new Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker on the blog yet, but let’s just say the mashed potatoes that have been coming out of my kitchen lately are some of the best ever.  I decided to pack even more veggies into my shepherd’s pie and threw in a parsnip for fun this time.

Anyways, let’s get straight to the good stuff cause I gotta get back to work.  Here’s my recipe for Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Parsnip Kale Mash.

For the mash:

  • 3-4 big yukon gold or russet potatoes
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter (use less, use olive oil, whatever makes you happy here)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make the mash however you usually do, the parsnips and potatoes take the same amount of time to cook and are happy to take a hot bath together.  Add in the butter, milk and kale when they’re done and whip them to perfection (if you were like me and had some leftover creme fraiche in your fridge you would also add that).  In my pressure cooker I did them on the second red ring for 6 minutes and used the natural release method (yes, I am aware there are funny jokes to be made about these instructions). Set them aside and keep warm.

For the base:

  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed, picked over and cooked until they are tender but retain some bite (about 15 minutes)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chopped cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water

Saute the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook 2 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper at this point, and add the tomato paste.  Cook out the tomato paste a bit until it’s bubbly, then add the wine and simmer it down to reduce slightly.  Add in the drained lentils and 2 cups of stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes, adding more stock if it dries out.  Continue cooking until lentils reach desired doneness.  Cooking times may very with green lentils as well.

Once everything is ready and seasoned to your liking (don’t forget to remove the bay leaves), put the base into a 9 x 11 glass casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes and let stand another 10.  I drizzled a bit of white truffle oil on top, and you could also grate some Parmesan cheese.

You could make individual pies for a dinner party if you wanted…otherwise this casserole keeps really well in the fridge, and would also freeze well.

Bon Appetit!

Lazy Summer

I’ve been known to be lazy in the summer. And a byproduct of this malaise is that I cook less…a lot less.  I can’t bring myself to prepare anything more than a salad or a frozen veggie burger on a day that’s hotter than 25 degrees.  Mostly this is because I want to be outside, enjoying the sun and doing fun things.  It may be as simple as having a glass of wine (or two) on my patio with a book, meeting a friend for a walk, or going for a bike ride, but the end result is always the same on these long summer days.  Food is not cooked.

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I go through phases based on the seasons, and in the summer, as soon as the days get longer and the air gets warmer, the social butterfly in me comes out.  Beach after work? Beer on a patio? Dinner with friends? I just can’t say no in the summer.  It’s like I stop thinking about how much sleep I want, or how much money I’m spending, or the fact that if I go out I will inevitably have to buy lunch the next day.  I just say yes!  A friend of mine told me about her ‘summer of yes’  a few years ago and I quite like the idea of having a couple of months a year where you just do what feels right!

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But, lately, as the summer days are starting to get shorter (it’s dark now at 9pm, le sigh) and the air is a little cooler I’ve been incredibly inspired in the kitchen.  It’s like I’m a lost little puppy who found its way home! In the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking, and baking (which is rare for me) up a storm.  My fridge is always full and I haven’t had an excuse to go for lunch in a while.  My husband is in heaven!

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to use the f word just yet, because we still have 4 more weeks of summer to go, but I will say that the days of just salad satisfying me for dinner have officially passed.  So in case you’re wondering, here’s what’s been going on in my kitchen.

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I made a split pea soup for my husband to have as an afternoon snack at work (yeah maybe it’s weird, but he likes it).  Just a little something simple I threw together the other day.  2 cups of dried split peas, 4 cups of veggie stock, diced carrot and onion (which I sauteed a bit), a couple pinches of herbs de Provence and I let it simmer for about an hour before I pureed it with my immersion blender.  Easy peasy (literally)!

I also made an awesome grilled vegetable ratatouille the other night.  I grilled up zucchini, these funny looking round light green squash (not sure what they are called), a couple peppers, eggplant and tomatoes and once everything was cooked to my liking, I sliced it up and threw in some crushed garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, herbs de Provence (yes, this is a theme), and seasoned it with some salt and pepper.  It was even better cold the next day!

Since I clearly have France on my mind, I also made my own version of a French potato salad.  I used mixed white and red nugget potatoes, thinly sliced fennel and green beans. My vinaigrette was simple too, grainy dijon, champagne vinegar (vive la France!), and olive oil of course.  That with a glass of rose and a Peter Mayle book and you might as well be spending a year in Provence!

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I’ve also rekindled my love for Deb Perleman’s blog (Smitten Kitchen).  I’ve made her barley, corn and haricot vert salad, as well as her chickpea and roasted pepper salad. Both were hits with friends at BBQ’s.  And as we speak, I’m waiting for her herbed potato and summer squash torte to come out of my oven.  I had fun making it so even if it’s terrible it’s not a loss!  Getting a little more comfortable with my mandoline over here…no big deal!  Let’s hope I still have all my fingers at Christmas though!

And on to the piece de resistance. The baking. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually pretty good…and not too sweet.  I hate overly sweet, sugary things.  I see kids at sporting events with cotton candy stuck all over their hands and faces and I have to look away, like I’ve seen a snake or something.

Every August with zucchini is in abundance I make this chocolate olive oil zucchini bread. Who are we kidding, it’s a cake, but it’s a healthy cake!.  Simply amazing!  I also adapted a recipe from my new Turkish cookbook for a fig and walnut cake.  Here’s my version:

  • 8-10 fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 T semolina or corn meal
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T orange juice, or zest of an orange
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 cup yogurt (I used goats yogurt as it’s more Turkish)
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup walnuts chopped

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour an 11″ spring form pan and set it aside. Mix the figs together with the semolina and 2 T sugar in a small bowl. Beat the remaining sugar with the eggs until smooth.  Add orange juice, olive oil, buttermilk, vanilla and yogurt.  Mix until smooth and then add the walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until incorporated.

Spoon half the batter into the pan, then sprinkle the figs on top.  Top with the rest of the batter and bake for 40-45 min. depending on your oven.

So there you have it, I’m back in the saddle after some summer shenanigans. I’m feeling inspired and happy back in my kitchen where I belong.  Soon enough there will be posts about football and stew and red wine, but for now, I’m enjoying this beautiful lazy summer here in Vancouver!

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The Kaya Valley, Turkey

I believe there are a handful of places we go in our lives that will truly change us.  These are the places we remember when we close our eyes at night, when we need a moment of peace during times of stress, and they are most certainly the places we fantasize about uprooting our lives to move to.  They are places that speak to us on a subconscious level, that make us feel like we’ve been there before, or that we were meant to experience.  I don’t know, and I can’t explain it, so I won’t try, but the Kaya Valley in Turkey was one of these places for me.

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The Kaya Valley

All the guide books you’ll read when planning a trip to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast will tell you to stay in Fethiye.  It’s a lovely town, with a cute harbour, lots of fun tourist activities, and day trips within easy reach.  It’s also the starting point for many multi-day gulet sailing trips.  But it’s overrun with, well tourists, and expensive hotels, package holiday resorts, and not so great restaurants.  What the guide books don’t tell you, is that just up the hill, a short 8 km drive, is the Kaya Valley, a beautiful little garden of eden that most people probably will never know is there.

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Fethiye

Kaya is the kind of place you can completely lose yourself in. It feels like you’re stepping back, to a simpler time, where people were self sufficient and didn’t need massive grocery stores.  They still use donkeys to plough their fields and carry heavy loads around, and an actual shepherd is responsible for grazing the flock up the mountainside and back each day.  What drew me to Kaya initially, besides Liz and Tim’s awesome B&B, was its relative proximity to touristy things down in Fethiye or Oludeniz, but your ability to escape it all at the end of the day.  We wanted to experience real Turkey and this was pretty close I think.

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The only real tourist attraction in the Kaya Valley is Kayaköy, a Greek village that was abandoned overnight in 1923 when the Greeks were pushed out of Turkey.  It’s neat and totally worth a visit because it’s quiet and not a ton of people go there.  The valley itself is difficult to reach without a car, but not impossible (the dolmus runs often).  There are two ways to get into the valley, the most spectacular being the winding mountain road that leads up from the harbour in Fethiye.  The other is through the packaged resort village of Hisarönü.  Find the mountain road if you can, in Fethiye just beyond the ruined castle and watch out for stray goats scampering across the road.

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Once you descend into the valley, if you’re like me, you will fall head over heals in love.  It’s like a little micro climate tucked away that time forgot.  We stayed in Keciler, which is the first settlement in Kaya once you come down the mountain road.  The directions we got from our hosts were to turn left at the mosque and we easily found the house from there.  It’s not the kind of place with street names or road signs. Keciler means goat in Turkish, so again, if you’re like me (obsessed with goats) this is the place for you!

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The first night our hosts recommended dinner at Cin Bal, an open air kebab restaurant. We had been driving all day so decided to walk across the valley to the restaurant.  We wandered down a little dirt path, through a very old cemetery and along a small river bed at dusk.    The Cin Bal doesn’t really have menus (you pick your meze and your type of protein), so we said we wanted lamb and veggies and left the rest up to them.  What arrived at our table was some of the best meze of our trip, followed by a charcoal grill that was placed next to our table.  Next came a huge plate of local vegetables, and then a platter of raw lamb (5 different cuts).  For people who are pretty much vegetarian we were a little scared, but managed to consume everything.  The food and experience as a whole was outstanding.

Since we had walked over at dusk, and it was now dark we needed to figure out how to get home because street lights are pretty much non existent in Kaya.  Our host had told us to just ask the manager for a ride back and that he would know where their house was. Skeptical, we asked and sure enough, 5 minutes later, we were getting into the back of some young guys pick up truck.  Of course, no seat belts, music was blasting, and he was driving really fast on little country roads.  But we arrived home safe and sound, and he didn’t even give us an opportunity to tip him.

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The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on our sunny patio with a view of the Baba Dag (Father Mountain) off in the distance.  We watched the herds of sheep and goats wander up right next to the house and then carry on up the hillside to their grazing pasture for the day, bells jingling and meandering about in the brambles.  We had mulberries for the first time, and local cheese, and homemade apricot jam.

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It was a hot day (30+), but we decided to take our hosts up on their offer to let us use their bicycles.  So we set out on our journey to explore Kaya by daylight. First we detoured and passed some sarcophaguses and ancient Lycian tombs that were guarded by a herd of goats, and then continued on down to Gemelier beach. Half way down the steep hill I was ready to turn back when I saw how far down we still had to go.  I anticipated having problems making it back up, especially after a hot afternoon and a few beers at the beach.  But I was essentially told to suck it up and we peddled onward.

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When we arrived at Gemelier it was pretty much empty.  There was a kid offering to take people out on speedboat rides, and a couple of older ladies selling gözleme, which is a kind of Turkish pancake/crepe, and cold drinks.  Of course, the beach chairs and umbrellas are free to use, but it’s highly suggested that you buy a drink.  But don’t worry, these ladies aren’t here to gouge you, large Efes were 10 TL which is marginally more than they are at the corner store, and they’re ice cold.  If you aren’t hardcore like me and prefer to drive down to Gemelier, there’s free parking.

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We sat for a few hours, watching the gulets cruise by, swimming in the salty water of the Aegean, and sunning ourselves. In the end we were very happy with our choice to stay in Kaya, and then 2 nights further south in Kas, instead of joining a 4 or 5 night gulet tour. We had debated it after friends recommended the gulet experience, but it’s a total crapshoot in terms of who ends up on your boat, the quality of the food and accommodation and where your captain actually ends up taking you.  And what we did was cheaper in the end than 5 nights on a gulet would have been.

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The return back up the hill was a struggle.  I was dehydrated, on the verge of becoming very hangry, and sweating like I never thought possible.  I’m totally down with up hill cycling, but not in 35 degree heat!  But in the end, after my husband thought I was about to have a stroke, I made it!!!  Achievement unlocked!  We cruised back into Kaya’s village and picked up more beers at a little store where I don’t think they had seen a tourist in years, which was cool, and headed back to our patio for some heat relief.

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We agreed that Kaya was the kind of place where you could live, and really enjoy life.  It would be a simple existence, but a happy one.  We spent our evenings in Kaya sitting on our terrace, watching the sunset and the light changing in the valley, and listening to the sound of the animals all around us.  There were cows, sheep, ostrich, goats, cats, doves, bulls, donkeys, and dogs.  Every so often you hear the call to prayer form the mosque down the road, and in this setting, not only does it remind you that you are far away from home, but it adds to the beauty and comfort of Kaya.  The second night we lost power, which apparently is a regular occurrence in the valley, and it was nice to not be able to get on the wifi and be forced to just sit, relax and enjoy the view.

DPP_1168DPP_1079If you like to get away from the crowds and experience a place like a local, then consider staying in Kaya instead of Fethiye.  We had three nights, and I wish we could have stayed longer. Four nights would have been perfect to really enjoy the valley to its fullest, and experience Fethiye.  We did the 12 Islands by boat one day which was nice, but I kind of wish we’d just stayed in Kaya and hiked/had another beach day instead.  But c’est la vie, it’s a place I’m sure I will return to.  And if you need a great place to stay, for 50 EUR a night Liz and Tim’s B&B is perfect.  You get a private terrace, a fridge in your room, and a large luxurious ensuite.  It was also the most comfortable bed we had during our two weeks in Turkey.   Their hospitality and friendliness really made us enjoy our stay.

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