Getting So Excited!

I am waking up everyday so excited for our new adventure.  It is getting more and more real!  I packed up most of the shipment that will be staying in Turkey (at the summer house) as well as the stuff that will be shipped to the US.  We are going to be staying with some friends in Dallas for a while which will give us time to get phones, buy a car, maybe even get Texas drivers licenses.  I have to get fingerprinted for my new school as well.  We will get all the bureaucratic things done in Dallas, and then we will go on vacation in Austin with our friends.  They were the friends we toured Texas with in 2012, and they came to visit us in Turkey last year.  I apparently have been very lax on the blogging as I did not blog about the epic international fun.  Anyway, we are incredibly excited to be moving close to our friends, Shawn was Bulent’s landlord when he was a grad student in Texas in the early 2000s.  Their bromance has lasted and deepened over the years.  I met Shawn’s wife Larinda in 2012, two years after she made and sent (to Turkey) the most beautiful shadow box with our wedding invitation and wedding photo.  I was so glad we hit it off, and so excited that we will be closer in distance!   Whee!   27 days and counting to the move! 

Getting Ready!

Oh my!  We have been paring down our belongings.  What we are going to ship is already packed! And minimal!  We have sold many of the things we will not be taking with us, the rest we will give to friends and family, or donate.  My balcony is looking bare, since the flowers have been sold or given away, but I did keep keep the mesclun and chard plants.  While Incek is far out of town, it is beautiful in the spring.  We have been taking walks and enjoying our bucolic life while it lasts. 

 

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We have bought our plane tickets, which was more complicated than it sounds, as we bought our tickets so we could be together, but I am going to be reimbursed by my work for my ticket.  It included several trips to HR, many calls to the purchasing office, and formal written requests.  We have also started training Butterfinger to not completely loathe the carry bag she will be squished into and then in which she will be shoved under a seat.  Poor baby.  We have already given her her summer haircut so that she can recover from the embarrassment before she is completely demoralized from the bag. 

 

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Our next step is to get ourselves ready for the trip.  We are going to get complete health and dental check ups before we leave.  We have really comprehensive health insurance here, and procedures are pretty inexpensive.  Wheeeeeee!    I am so excited!

Changes

I talked about the reasons I had not been blogging, and part of it was that I could not fully express myself.  We have had plans in the works, but they have been tenuous and uncertain.  Bülent and I have been incredibly happy in Turkey.  We have had so many adventures, travelled to so many places, and met so many people.  When I first came, I was 24, young and excited.  Everyday was an adventure.  After six years in Turkey, everyday still brings joy and appreciation.  Just last week I was stopped by strangers on the street while walking in my neighborhood, invited in for coffee and had a tour of their garden. 

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I have learned the language, and developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the nuances of the culture—my original goals.  In the six years we have been in Turkey we have made friends, embarked on our careers, gotten married, moved twice, received a Masters and (almost) a PhD, and celebrated a decade of being partners.  We have lost parents and grandparents, and we have loved.  We have gained a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. 

 

Turkey will always have our hearts, and will always be home, we have so many friends and so much family here.  We have loved our time in Turkey, but thinking about the future and our careers, we have decided it is time to move on. It is time for a new adventure.  The next couple of months will be filled with packing, details, saying goodbye and excitement.  We are moving back to the United States.

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Wait for us Austin!  We’ll be there soon!

Alive?

As you may have noticed, I have not been blogging as frequently.  Or at all.  Over the last year or so I had slowed down my pace. Partially because I was busy and partially because the main bulk of my blog was travel and exploration, and after living in Turkey for five years, the adventures had slowed down.  I want to start writing again. I really appreciate being able to express myself and have a connection with my readers.  I have been thinking about it for a while, and have put off writing until I think I could make a commitment again.

My last post was about moving.  Our move had ben a big change for us.  I am now in the “sticks” again.  incek2

The herd of sheep that regularly pass in front of our building.

I can no longer walk to the grocery store, have easy access to the town center or have my community of friends.  I do have a new community of friends, but many of the friends I used to visit with on a day to day basis are back in the old neighborhood.    Day to day life has changed, basic things like cooking and errands are more difficult due to sharing a car, and not being able to walk to neighborhood shops and the pazar. 

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However, there are many benefits to living on the edge of town.   The air was clean all winter, the smell of coal smoke does not infiltrate our hair and clothes and the accompanying smog did not disturb us.  Our view is lovely, and faces south west, so we have had lovely sun all year, and the floor to ceiling windows have allowed enough light into our home to keep our plants alive inside since the frost hit. We have also hosted and been hosted at many more intimate gatherings with friends.  Since the restaurants and shops are more distant, we meet at friends’ homes rather than restaurants to visit. 

Things have happened, which I will tell about.

Places have been visited, which I will share.

And adventures may be coming…I will keep you posted!

Uzungöl

The road to Uzungöl was a lot more pleasant than the place itself.  We had heard it was a lovely lake, pictures with places to hike and bike ride. It was a lake, and there was a walking path, and bike rentals.  That is about as close to the description as it came.

We left the lovely snow capped Kaçkar Mountains and the Ayder Plateau, for Uzungöl.  We decided to do some sightseeing along the way.

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We stopped by one of the Fırtına River bridges on the way.

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Built in the Ottoman era during the 18th or 19th century by local stonemasons, they are still architecturally sound, and very charming.

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After that we traveled deep into Fırtına Valley (Stormy Valley), we went to Zilkale, or Bell Castle.  It was only about 20 km but on the winding steep road, it took almost an hour.  We kept seeing villages up on the steep mountain sides.  They were amazingly isolated and beautiful, with their dark wood buildings, surrounded by the deep green of the tea bushes.  P1017087

Almost impossible to reach by road, some of them only seemed accessible by funiculars or teleferikler

Photo from http://www.son.tv/haber-213915

After we made our way through the mountain passes we finally reached Zilkale.  It was striking, high up on the edge of a cliff the castle had been restored and was worth the trek into the wilderness.  From its vantage point we were also able view of the deep canyon and the waterfalls from the castle walls.

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From here we went to Uzungöl.  On the road to Çamlıhemşin we had been struck by the green mountains, covered in tea plants, the clear water of the rivers and streams, and the mountain vistas.  In contrast, the road to Uzungöl was industrial, the river muddy and filled with silt from the mining and hydroelectric dams.  In comparison to the mountain villages, with their wood houses high up on the hills on the Çamlıhemşin road, on the way to Uzungöl the roadsides were filled with typically Turkish concrete multi-storied buildings and tea processing factories.

Uzungöl (Long Lake) is no longer a natural lake, dammed up and the embankments covered in stone, it actually resembles a man made lake more than anything else.  The lower end of the lake is built up, pensions, restaurants and neon lights creating a hodge podge of tourism.  The area is fairly conservative as well, catering to more devout foreign tourists.  I was surprised at the number of women wearing full covering, or burkas.  While Turkey is an Muslim majority nation, and some areas are more conservative than others, full covering with only ones’ eyes showing is not typical.

We also had a major issue with our hotel.  We stayed at the Aygün Motel, the accommodations were clean and it was a spacious bungalow, with plenty of room for all three of us for a decent price.  However, when we woke up in the morning it was very cold inside our room.  See your breath cold.    There was also no hot water.  Reception kept telling us the heat would come on soon, in two hours.  In an hour, in 45 minutes…  After huddling in our room, wearing our jackets for several hours, we went out to eat just to warm up.  After hours and hours of a freezing cold room, the heat finally came back on.  It never really warmed up though.  We tried to change our tickets to fly out that night, but the plane was full, instead we paid the penalty just to move our tickets up by a few hours.  The next morning, the room was frigid again,  it was then we learned that they actually turn off the heat each morning, and turn it on back at night.

In the morning we planned to leave at 8 am to be to the airport 9am, at for our 10 am flight.  However, when I woke up at five to use the bathroom, I saw outside there was at least 6 inches of snow, with more falling steadily.  Uzungöl had been transformed to a winter fairy land, but we still didn’t want to stay.

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Afraid we would be trapped there if it kept snowing, we left the motel by 5:20 am to make sure we would be able to make it down the mountain.  The switchbacks  were a little hairy at first, but once we were halfway down the mountain the snow turned to rain, and we were all relieved.

Bülent and I were talking last night and we honestly have not had a trip with so many challenges and unfavorable conditions.  We have traveled all over Turkey for the last five years, staying in five star hotels, motels, pensions and even hostels, and have always had a great time, with warm and hospitable hosts. It was certainly a memorable birthday trip, one that none of us will forget in the future.  We still had a great time though.  I was with my two favorite men, one who had flown thousands of mile to surprise me!  I felt lucky and beloved to have such a grand adventure planned for me, and an adventure it was!

Bakla Köftesi (Fava Bean Balls/Burgers)

Fava Bean köftesi, a type of vegetarian köfte.  Since we have gone mostly vegetarian I have been trying to find alternatives and interesting food.  This seemed to fit the bill, interesting, healthy and seasonal.   

400 grams of cooked, shelled fava beans
1 onion
1 carrot
clove of garlic
Cilantro about 1/3 cup, half a bunch or so (parsley would work too)
1 egg
salt and pepper (I used chipotle pepper)

  First shell your fava beans. Then simmer the beans for five or six minutes, until tender then submerge them in cold water to make it easier to take off their outer skin.  You will need about 400 grams of the cooked shelled fava beans in total, so the original weight should be more. Dice and sauté the onion and carrot until soft, add the garlic, minced and cook until aromatic.

In a food processer add, onion, carrot, garlic, fava beans, cilantro, egg and spices.  Pulse until combined’, but not a complete puree.  Roll into small balls or flat latke type shapes.   I made two batches using different methods.  The first I baked at 350 for twenty minutes.  I sprinkled sesame seeds on top for crunch.  These held together well, and would be great for burgers.

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The second batch I “fried” in a nonstick pan with a tiny bit of olive oil.  This batch was more tender but not as sturdy.  Both were tasty.  Even Butterfinger liked them. 

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Doğa Karadeniz

Recently I went on a trip to the Doğa Karadeniz with my brother and husband.  I will blog about the places separately from the experience…which was a doozy.  While certain parts of the trip were very lovely, it was sort of a comedy of errors.  We flew into Trabzon and from there made our way to Çamlıhemşin. Bülent booked a bungalow for us, Eko Danitap, it was supposed to be lovely and beautiful.  The directions were wrong. We followed them to a T, and in following the signs we were led up a narrow, scary series of switchbacks, and at the top of the mountain…no Eko Danitap.  Even asking for directions we were unable to find the hotel and when we called for directions, the land line had been disconnected and no one answered the cell number.  Even knowing we were coming, as we made a reservation, we never got a response or a call back. 

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We had to find new accommodations.  However, one of the the reason we had a reservation was because it was early in the tourist season and not all hotels were open.  We decided to  head up to Ayder Yaylası, we had heard it was incredibly beautiful.  It was, but also cold.  We managed to find an open hotel, and the rooms were very nice.  The owner said it would take a little while for the water to get hot for the showers.  We didn’t think much of it.  Except the water never got hot, and the toilet in our room didn’t work.  They couldn’t get it fixed.  The toilet in my brother’s room worked though, thank goodness…Welcome to Turkey, thanks for flying thousands of miles for my birthday—the least we could offer would be indoor plumbing.2014-03-15 08.29.34

Despite the issues, we decided to stay the night, as it was getting late and we were far from anything.  When we woke up there was still no hot water.  We had breakfast and then decided to take a walk. Ayder was absolutely breathtaking. 

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We were near the Kaçkar Mountain Park, so we walked up that way.  It really was gorgeous. Icy mountains, crystal clear brooks and pristine air. 

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After a brisk walk we all felt the need for a shower, and decided to leave Ayder Yaylası, for a place that was heavily recommended by a local we had met, Uzungöl.  The wonders (or lack thereof) of “Long Lake” or Uzungöl deserve a post all of its own.  

Surprise!!

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I have written about my brother before, and even created a meme.  But this really out does it.  My brother is a great guy, sweet, caring, kind to children and animals and good looking.  He cooks, will do pedicures and when necessary he will stand calf deep in shit and dig up the septic system, because that it what needs to be done.  We get along really well and have a great relationship, I had a blast when I went to visit y family in February.  We had a couple of “sib” nights and hung out, just the two of us. 

Last week I turned 30.  I was a little less than thrilled to leave my twenties behind, but I was not too concerned about turning thirty.  I had planned to go out to sushi with a friend after work, but my husband asked me to join him for a basketball game instead.  I decided we could do sushi another time.  I came home and Bülent was still in his nice work clothes, which is unusual.  We usually come home and change right into comfy clothes.   Then from around the corner appears…Elliot.  I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!  My brother was there.  IN MY APARTMENT.  IN ANKARA!   Apparently there was a bet between Bülent and Elliot that I would should “Oh my god” first, but the first word I said was “WHAT?!” My darling brother flew in for my birthday! 

My brother, on my couch, in my house in Ankara!

Bülent  had told me we would go on a surprise trip for my birthday, which I will detail in a later post.  He told me that there were two surprises, one was the location, which he would reveal before we went for packing purposes, the other he would not.  They had been planning the surprise for about three weeks.  It was such a great gift, to spend time with more of my family together. 

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The trip was to the Doğa Karadeniz (Eastern Black Sea) where I have been wanting to go for a while.  It certainly was an interesting trip, filled with adventure, and challenges-more on that later.  However, the scenery was beautiful and we all had a wonderful time being together.  

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I couldn’t have asked for a more special or memorable birthday.  This new decade was ushered in by a surprise of such magnitude and a week of such happiness and excitement, that I can only imagine what is to next to come.

Hoşaf (Fruit Compote)

This is a great winter fruit dish, using fruit that was harvested and then dried while in season.  Hoşaf is considered a drink, a dessert or a side. It can be made with a variety of fruits such as dried raisins, apricots, plums, pears, cherries, etc.  My father-in-law used to drink it in the summer when he was young, before soft drinks were popular. This drink is incredibly refreshing in the summer and a nice treat with or after dinner.   This is also traditionally served as a side with börek.

Ingredients:

4 cups of Dried fruits (mostly Apricots but it is nice to add dried plums)
8-10 cups of water
1 cup of sugar *Optional (add as much or little as you like)

 

Directions:

Rinse fruit thoroughly.
Bring 8-10 cups of water to a roiling boil.
When it is boiling add the dried fruit to the water (and sugar if using) and shut off the heat.

Let the fruit sit in the water until the water cools. Once the water has cooled, place the pot in the fridge. Let it sit a few hours, a day is better, before  eating the hoşaf. The longer the hoşaf sits the tastier it becomes.

I prefer a main component of apricots with some plums thrown in, the apricots release their sugar more than the plums do so you end up with a sweeter juice. I do not usually add sugar. 

Zeytinyağlı Pırasa/Leeks in Olive Oil

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1 kilo of leeks, washed well and chopped in 1/3 inch rounds
1 big onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, chopped in rounds or half moons
1/4 cup rice
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon
2/3 – 1 cup hot water
1 tsp. sugar
Salt
Pepper
1-2 garlic cloves (optional)

Chop onions, and sauté in oil oil for about five minutes, until translucent.  Cut off the tough outside parts of the leeks, wash thoroughly and cut into 1/4 inch slices.  Peel carrot and chop into 1/4 inch slices. Add the carrots, leeks and garlic and sauté gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, until all ingredients are tender.*   It is best served cool or at room temperature.  Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on top, add lemon slices for a garnish. 

*Sometimes a 1/4 a cup of rice is added with the rest of the ingredients.