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!

 

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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Impressions of Turkey

I’ve just returned from two amazing weeks in Turkey! It’s somewhere I never gave much thought to visiting before my flights were booked, but I’m so incredibly happy that it found its way onto my travel radar.   I was a little apprehensive about visiting a Muslim country for the first time and was also slightly concerned about the political climate, but what I came away with is an appreciation for the simple life most people live in Turkey, their incredible friendliness, amazing food and wine, and the historical significance of this gateway between Europe and the middle east.

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Galata Tower, Istanbul

There will be many blog posts to come on the subject of Turkey, but I thought an introductory post was necessary.  First things first, I have to say that I went in thinking I would be put out of my comfort zone at every turn, that I would stick out like a sore thumb, and that being woken up by the call to prayer at 4am would be annoying, but I was wrong about all of these things.  I also was concerned about safety after traveling predominately in northern Europe.  But honestly, I felt safer walking around Istanbul at night than I did in Paris, and yes, people try to take advantage of tourists and sell you crap you don’t need or want, but if you ignore them (which you’ll get good at) you almost stop noticing them.

Our Turkish adventure started at midnight when we landed at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Normally we take transit to our destination when we travel, but the Metro was not running so we were forced to take cab (our first ever after many trips to Europe). Thankfully our airbnb host had given me directions in Turkish to print because our cab driver didn’t speak a word of English.  We walked right past the hustlers inside the airport, outside into the sticky night air to the legit taxi stand, and were promptly put into a Fiat taxi that looked like it had been to war.  My seat belt didn’t work (we were lucky that there were even seat belts) and after a minute of mild panic over his terrible and fast driving I decided to just go with it and give myself over to the organized chaos that defines Turkey.

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Spice bazaar, Istanbul

We spent the next two weeks falling in love with this wonderful country, its food, animals (and their noises) and beautiful landscapes.  Our itinerary included a good mix of sightseeing, city time, country/beach time and active pursuits.  We did agree that one more beach day would have been nice though.  This trip was different than the others we’ve been on for two key reasons.  First, you do have to just give up worrying about your physical safety in the North American sense, and second the fact that people might think you’re rude or disrespectful if you ignore them, wear a tank top, or show your knees just becomes an afterthought.  Obviously you want to respect their culture, religion and traditions, and by no means should you enter a mosque dressed inappropriately, but along the coast and in other touristy areas you can dress as you would in California.

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Blue Mosque, Istanbul

On the topic of safety, Turks really don’t seem overly concerned with it.  Honestly I’m sure most of the rest of the world is similar.  In addition to not having seat belts and over using their car horns, Turkish drivers will not stop…for anything.  They may pause briefly at a red light, but the car will be rolling slightly forward the entire time.  As a pedestrian it is your responsibility not to get hit by a car, moped, tram, bike or cart.  Even if you have the little green walking man in your favour be careful!  But if you’re too patient you wont’ get anywhere, so sometimes you have to just commit and go, which is scary at first.

When you walk along the sidewalks off the main thoroughfares you’ll find that you get about 2 meters and then will be forced into the street for some reason.  Usually it’s a set of stairs leading down into a basement apartment, a pile of rubble or construction debris in the way, or a herd of stray cats just hanging about.  So eventually you just get used to walking down the centre of the street until you hear a car coming and then you scamper back to the supposed safety of the sidewalk as quickly as possible.  It’s like a constant game of road hockey, except no one yells “car”.  You wouldn’t last a day if you were deaf in Istanbul.

Driving is an entirely different animal that my husband handled like a champ.  I guess once you’ve mastered driving in Italy you’re good?  We picked up our little Fiat at the airport in Izmir, and not 10 min later on the highway we encountered a cement mixer that had t-boned an SUV, just stuck in the middle of the highway, no flares or anything directing you around it.  In addition to driving very fast (especially around corners on seaside roads) and not being shy about flashing their lights when it’s time to get over, Turkish drivers have decided that even if two lanes of traffic stop at a light, there’s usually room for a third lane to be created.  This causes a bottleneck once the light turns green, and invariably people end up back in the same position they were in before, but they feel like they’re getting somewhere faster I guess.  We didn’t understand it.

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Road from Kas to Antalya

Parking is no problem. Basically you just throw your car wherever it will fit and walk away. But be careful though, if you happen to park in someone’s lot they will probably approach you to buy something from them.  You may or may not feel obligated to do this as a tourist. We did not as we had gotten over the whole ‘we’re being rude thing’ by the time we got our car.

Food and water are also interesting topics in terms of safety.  After some research we decided not to drink the tap water.  First of all, it’s heavily chlorinated most places and tastes absolutely terrible, second, apparently it can make you sick, although I doubt that (I brushed my teeth with it no problem), and third, you can buy a 1.5L bottle of cold water at any corner store in the country for $0.50, making it not worth it to even attempt tap water.

The food we had was consistently delicious, with the worst meal of the trip being had in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet tourist centre.  And even then it wasn’t that bad (just greasy).  We ate at all family run one off places and found that the vast majority of people were actually concerned about your experience, thus providing excellent service, and the quality and value of the food was outstanding. We ran the gamut. eating at mehanes (pubs), market stalls, chic bistros, beachside cafes, and even inside caves.  Our typical evening meal was a shared meze plate with bread, a couple of vegetarian mains to share (or lamb once in a while) and a couple large bottles of Efes, or a nice bottle of Turkish wine.  Outside of our splurge meal in Istanbul at Meze by Lemon Tree our meals never cost more than $50 CAD. We had one dinner (without booze) cost as little as $12 for two.

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Meze plate

And the last thing that made a big impression on me was how lovely, friendly and generally kind the Turkish people are.  Even when they’re trying to rip you off they’re pretty nice…which makes it harder to say no of course!  From our first encounter with Idil, our airbnb host in Istanbul, to our final stop at the Kelebek Special Cave Hotel in Goreme, the people of Turkey were keen to share honest information about their local area, country and culture.  For example, we learned that in Goreme, since the 70’s when tourism overtook the local economy they have seen a crisis develop.  Families who had farmed the land for hundreds of thousands of years suddenly stopped and began operating restaurants and hotels.  Within a generation the skill of farming has been lost to many.  At Kelebek, they are trying to raise awareness on this issue by hosting an ‘organic breakfast’ for their guests in the family’s valley close by, stay tuned for that post!

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Night time in Goreme, Cappadocia

When staying in the Kaya Valley, just above Fethiye, we thought the British couple whose B&B we were staying at were nuts when they told us to walk into down for dinner at Cin Bal, and then ask the restaurant to drive us home.  But sure enough a nice young guy scooped us up in his truck and drove us right back home, knowing exactly where our hosts house was.  Didn’t even give us the opportunity to tip him!

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Kaya Valley

We had car trouble one day (note to travelers, do not put your car keys with a remote fob in your swim shorts and go into the water) and I thought ok here we go.  It’s going to cost us an arm and a leg to get help.  But to my dismay within minutes of our car not starting we had two guys helping us (neither spoke English).  I was also shocked when I went to a hotel to use the phone that the girl at the front desk said ‘of course you can use the phone for free’, and that it was no problem to have the car rental company ring me back at the hotel if I wanted to wait there.

There are countless examples of kind people, delicious food, and unexpected surprises (the good kind) in Turkey.  Yes, we did encounter people who tried to scam us and sell us useless junk.  No, I don’t want to buy a nice carpet (t-shirt, purse, fill in the blank as you see fit) No, I don’t want an English guide to skip the line with, I don’t want to eat or drink something in your restaurant as I already ate, and oh, you know someone who lives in Canada…your cousin, friend, brother…what? Nope, I still don’t want to buy what you are selling me, but thanks!

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Gemeli beach, Kaya Valley

There will be individual posts to come on various aspects of my recent trip, but if you read this and are thinking about possibly going to Turkey, my advice to you is do not hesitate. Do it and you will not regret it.  The exchange rate to the Turkish Lira makes is incredibly affordable, meaning you will spend infinitely less than you would in Croatia or Greece.  It’s a food and wine lovers paradise (yes, Turkish wine is actually really good!), and there is a wonderful mix of historical sights, places to relax, and activities for all ages and fitness levels.  I don’t have kids, but it’s a way more appropriate place to take your kids than say Italy (just be warned that Turkish people love kids and will pinch your child’s cheeks at every opportunity).

We are so preoccupied with the idea of our safety in North America, and this trip really highlighted that.  We also are incredibly focused on earning a good living to buy a home or a car or other seemingly meaningless material possessions (often times, lots of them). In Turkey many people don’t have this opportunity, but they make do with what they have, and in the end seem happier than we are for it.  There is something very appealing about a simpler life.  After this trip I feel like I am a better traveler, have truly experienced a different culture, and my desire to continue exploring continues to grow every day.

Hipster Foodie Trifecta

Hipsters are to Vancouver what hippies are to Portland.  In Vancouver hipsters tend to look like they just walked out of a Where’s Waldo book with their Herschel backpacks.  They congregate around microbreweries, overpriced thin crust pizza joints and just about anywhere with a communal table.

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I’m not hating, because I totally dig all this stuff in a big way too.  And according to my husband I have hipster tendencies.  I’m not full blown, but borderline.  What I’ve come to realize is that not only do hipsters start fashion trends, but they also start food trends.  I became acutely aware of this after the whole Voodoo Donghnut phenomenon happened. In case you’re not aware, Voodoo Doughnuts is a doughnut shop in Portland that’s been around for as long as I can remember.  I recall going there in college for PMS doughnuts (yes, they grind up Midol and put it in a doughnut) and no one in Portland was ever that excited about, but hipster tourists decided that it was worth talking about, and now it’s a thing.

So, flash forward to 2014 and look at the number of what I like to call ‘hipster dounut’ shops in Vancouver.  Lucky’s Doughnuts was awesome (hello French cruller)  and then Cartem’s Donuterie showed up…with their earl grey donut that tastes like a kids cereal and oh, wait, it wouldn’t be a proper hipster donut shop if they didn’t offer a bacon donut.  These designer donuts ain’t cheap; it’s like they’re the new cupcakes.  And I could honestly take em’ or leave em.

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Brussels sprouts are next on the hipster hit parade.  Previously thought of as little cabbagy stink bombs, they’re so popular now you see them on the menu of pretty much every restaurant in Gastown.  I loooove brussels sprouts so I’m cool with it, but if I have to hear one more person rave about the brussels sprouts at the Flying Pig I’m gonna lose it. They all taste pretty much the same, and you can make them at home in your oven really easily!  Even the d-bag set over at Glowbal has embraced the brussels sprout.

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And my last item in the hipster foodie trifecta is the microbrew.  I don’t know why everyone has suddenly realized that good beer is awesome.  Thankfully the PBR boat seems to have sailed away from Vancouver, and the real hipsters are all about the IPA’s now.  I called it years ago, when I proudly proclaimed that Alexander Keith wasn’t making an IPA, he was making a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and now we all know it’s really a just a boring old lager. I’m not saying I’m better than the YVR hipsters because I’ve been drinking the hoppy stuff since the 90’s, and it’s rad that we have all these little breweries around town (thank little baby Jesus for 33 Acres).  I recently jumped on the growler bandwagon myself and am absolutely loving it. But I don’t want to talk about beer like the real hipsters do, I just want to drink it and enjoy it. Hops are hops, and liking the darkest porter the world has ever seen doesn’t make you some sort of badass.

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Anyways, enough of a rant, if you don’t feel like going out to a hipster joint and paying $12 for crispy brussels sprouts, just make mine at home!

Gretchy T’s Hipster Brussels Sprouts

Preheat the oven to 450. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and once it comes to a roll add your brussels sprouts. Put the lid on it and let it cook for 5-6 minutes or until you can pierce them with a knife.  Drain and rinse with cold water to cool them off.  Cut the sprouts in half and put them on a lightly oiled sheet pan.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle a little more olive oil on top.  Spread everything around to coat, and then make sure all the sprouts are cut side down on the pan.  Roast them for about 8 minutes and then toss them.  I roast mine for another 6-8 minutes, because I like them almost overdone on the inside, but crisp on the outside.  Play around with it and see what you like.  You can do them for longer on a lower temperature, you’ll figure it out.

The secret is to sprinkle the sprouts with freshly grated parmesan cheese right out of the oven. Drizzle with some white truffle oil and squeeze half a lemon over the top.  You’ll feel like the Flying Pig has come to your kitchen! All you need is a growler full of the good stuff and you’re all set. Happy hipstering!