Travel

A gastronomic feast at Mikla restaurant in Istanbul

We were treated to another incredible gastronomic feast last week, at another of Istanbul’s finest dining spots. Mikla is on top of the Marmara Pera hotel and is a contemporary restaurant with a view, and oh what a view – spectacular.  

Sunset at Mikla

We were taken there by Jo and Thierry, who were visiting from Geneva – they said to book anywhere we would like, and let’s push the boat out, this was a celebration after all – Jo and I hadn’t seen each other for about ten years!

 

Mikla is owned by a Turkish Norwegian chef, so the food has always had a Scandi influence, although in the last few years, he has taken the menu back to its Anatolian roots.

And so after the huge success of the tasting menu at Gile last year, it didn’t take much persuasion before we all decided the seven course tasting menu was the way to go – and all on a Monday night – who’d have thought?

Zeytinyağlı & Raw Vegetables

 

Crispy Hamsi, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon

 
 

Dried Beef Tenderloin, “Hardaliye”, Malkara Lentil Humus, Green Tomato

 
 

Slow Cooked Grouper, Roasted Tomato, Halhali Olives, Salicornia, Tire Potato, Fig Vinaigrette

 
 

Cibes, Artichoke, Salty Yoghurt

 
 

Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey

 

The wonderful thing we have now discovered about tasting menus is that it is actually really rather nice to all have the same thing on your plate, and so therefore be able to discuss it endlessly, rather than a taster of your dining partners dish, before moving the conversation on…
 
  
Thanks Jo and Thierry!

 

How Was Your Summer?

Back in Istanbul after a long summer in the UK, and for the first time since moving here, I was actually looking forward to coming back ‘home’. In this case, home is where our things and belongings are, where my bed is, and where my husband is 😉

It was great to be able to spend the whole summer in the UK, for the most part within spitting distance of my parents, and to be able to be involved in their daily lives, and help out where I could. We were so lucky to be lent cottages in beautiful surroundings so we could enjoy the best of the Hampshire countryside.

  

But I have to be honest, it was not the most relaxing summer, and I felt a fair weight of responsibility in looking after them and getting carers organised, and bullying the NHS to get on with Tom’s treatment, resulting eventually in a week’s radiotherapy course in August.

As I said, it was a long summer, and so whilst it was with some trepidation that I left Mum and Thomas to fend for themselves for a few weeks, until I next go back, there was also a lightness in my step, as I boarded the plane back to Istanbul a couple of weeks ago.

After 11 weeks away, it was wonderful to see the dazzling Bosphorus again, to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces; and of course to reconnect with all our furry friends, both kedi (cats), and köpek (dogs), and make acquaintance with the new cats that have taken up residence with us, mostly outside, but occasionally inside, if they are wily enough.

  

And then back to school for Billy and Daisy, their last year at MEFIS, and at school in Istanbul, new classes to get used to, with several new faces.

It’s a strange adjustment coming back again, as an expat, after an extended period away, as there are holes, that people you have grown fond of over the previous year, have left, and then of course there is the influx of new people.

But it is always lovely catching up with old friends again, and having our first book club meeting.

  

However, I quickly came to dread that inevitable question, ‘How was your summer?’ As I dug around searching for the best way to describe it, I found that I stumbled and stuttered about it being ok, I mumbled something about my parents not being well, and ended up with some awkward condolences all round.

It’s a bit like that question asked to a woman who does not work in a paid job, ‘what do you do all day?’, to which of course the only answer is ‘why, of course, lie around with my feet up eating chocolate!’

So I decided I had or come up with an answer for this question also: how was my summer? I spent good, quality time with my family – and I did.

 

Isle of Wight with the girls chez Sowton

  

Evening river action

  

Fishing in Cornwall

    

Dave

 

Winter in Istanbul

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Sunrise over a snowy Istanbul

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This winter, our second in Istanbul, has been much colder. We have had three separate weeks of snowfall – much to the delight of Billy and Daisy, and I must say, I have also loved it! And because we are lucky enough to have such a wonderful aspect from our apartment, with views across the Bosphorus, there is nothing so beautiful as sitting snugly on the sofa by the window, staring out at a snowy landscape, and watching the snow fall over the rooftops.

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As well as the snow, the last few months have very much been dominated by Billy and his exams, but thankfully, they are now over. Billy sat four exams last week in a bid to get a place at Bryanston School in Dorset, where he will (hopefully) go in September 2016. We are all on tenterhooks now while we wait for the results.

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But as we all know, all work and no play does not make for a happy life, so we sneaked out for a long weekend at the end of January to a nearby ski resort, where Billy and Daisy got their first taste of zooming down the mountains. Needless to say, they loved it, and whilst we expected Billy to be fearless and tackle the slopes head on, Daisy surprised us the most as she took to it so easily and naturally.

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The intrepid trio

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And they’re off….

Kartalkaya is a 3 1/2 hour drive from Istanbul, so perfect for a long weekend, especially as it’s mostly highway. There is a wonderful jaw-dropping moment, when you exit the Bolu tunnel, and suddenly everywhere is white, with drifts of snow all around us. After that there is a final 28km winding ascent up the mountain to the resort, and we had been warned that we would need to stop and put chains on. And of course, this being Turkey, there are men on the side of the road at regular intervals, who are happy to do the job in a jiffy, in return for a few notes.

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Chains going on the wheels…

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The mountain road up to Kartalkaya

Kartalkaya is not like a European resort – there is no village, no shops, no restaurants – it is simply a collection of hotels with ski lifts, and ski runs of varying degrees of difficulty, spreading out behind them like a spider’s legs.

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Kartalkaya

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We had been recommended the Golden Keys hotel (thank you Ebru at Cup of Joy!) and it didn’t disappoint. Whereas the other hotels were eighties relics – old and crowded, they had stained carpets and smelt of fried food and cigarettes – our hotel was just a few years old. Moreover, it cleverly managed to combine both an industrial look – rooms that were quite bare and minimalist – and in contrast, a cozy feel – the main lobby and lounge areas were full of furs and roaring fires providing a wonderful oasis to ensconce yourself in after a hard day’s skiing (ahem!)

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Ski lesson on the first morning

There was also a wonderful spa with a sauna and steam room but the highlight was the outdoor hot tub, where we could relax in the afternoon, gazing out at the snowy peaks and watch the sun go dow. A games room with table tennis, pool and table football was a great addition for us, and provided just the right amount of diversion for hungry skiers waiting for the dining room to open for supper.

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Billy and Daisy in the chair lift

All in all, a wonderful weekend for both skiers and non-skiers alike, and we can’t wait to go back – till next year then! 

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The enigma that is street dogs in Turkey

I think I can speak for the rest of my family, when I say that one of our lasting memories of our time in Turkey, will be the street dogs. Growing up in the UK, stray dogs have a negative connotation of being dangerous and unwanted, but that perception has been turned on its head in Turkey.

Dixie, Sammie and Steffy

 

It is so embedded in the culture here, and is just a part of life, that people take care of the dogs. When we moved into our apartment here in Arnavutkoy, we first saw a dog that used to come and greet us and wag her tail – we named her Steffy. She was soon joined by a large dog with a gentle, yet fearful temperament – Sammi. Whilst he comes up to us and accepts treats, he does not want to be touched, even after 15 months of knowing him.

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Dixie, Sammi and Steffy getting caught up with Dave

 

Apparently, according to some of our dog-loving neighbours, the municipality, who monitor and look after the dogs (it is firmly enshrined in the law here), find places that they think the dogs will thrive, and if it works and the neighbours don’t complain, they bring more dogs. What seems to happen though, is that not only do the neighbours not complain, but they look after and cherish the new additions to the neighbourhood. Hence, Steffy and Sammi were soon joined by Dixie, who is definitely the underdog and quite timid. A few months later, a gorgeous dog, whom we had come across while walking on the Bosphorous, joined the pack – we named him Ziggy, as he has one brown eye, and one blue – a la David Bowie.

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Ziggy

 

Then there’s Waya, who used to belong to a house up the road, but ran away to join the strays – such an interesting enigma that a stray dog’s life here is preferable to a domestic dog, that is kept tied up all day. Poor Waya is a bouncy friendly dog that just wants lots of loving.

We have often thought about adopting one of these dogs and giving them a loving home, and it is especially tempting at this time of the year, when they have to survive in sub-zero temperatures – I remember last year, seeing Sammi lying in the snow, and it breaking my heart. However, the debate we always have is, would they prefer to be adopted or maybe not? For the most part, these dogs have a wonderful life – they are free spirits to roam where they want, they run around on the hillside in front of where we live, they have enough food and plenty of attention and cuddles. Would they want to have their freedom taken away, and be confined to being indoors? Is the exchange of security and love worth the sacrifice of their freedom? The jury is still out on that one…..

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Daisy giving some loving to Ziggy and Steffy

 

Theres one more part-timer in the pack, and that’s King, who’s an incredibly athletic boisterous Alsatian, who loves chasing cars. He is a loner and wanderer and we often spot him down by the Bosphorus. Or rather, he spots us out walking, and then runs at a million miles an hour towards us. Meanwhile most other walkers recoil in horror at the sight of this huge dog running at us, and grab their mini pooches into their arms as quickly as possible. Quite a sight as Daisy and King then embrace and have a big cuddle, much to the amusement and concern of onlookers.

 

But that’s just our little enclave. We feed them and so do lots of our neighbours. One couple built them a big shelter last year, that they regularly use at nighttime and one lovely lady is often in there, hanging out the blankets to dry, and generally spring cleaning their house!

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Daisy and Steffy, who loves her cuddles, as you can see

 

We recently invited ourselves unbidden onto the patch of other dog-loving people. There is a tiny park about a 5 minute walk from us on the way to Arnavutkoy, where several dogs hang out – we have seen them many times. One of the dogs is old and barks but we have never paid him much attention. Until last week. He was the one that I wrote about on FaceBook as I was so affected by this poor old dog lying in the snow, with a coat on! He looked so old and ill and cold and I couldn’t get him out of my head, and so went back and visited him most days. What was incredible is that every time I saw him, he had a new coat and jumper on  – old human ones that had been put over his front paws and body to keep him warm. I have slowly met the ladies who care for him, and his name is Beyaz (white in Turkish) and he is 12 years old and clearly on his last legs.

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What is interesting but strange, is that to me, he looks so ill and uncomfortable, with no quality of life, and barely surviving the freezing temperatures, that I couldn’t understand why somebody didn’t put him out of his misery. I realised it was not my place to interfere, as it was not my ‘patch’ but now I understand that euthanasia is not part of the Turkish culture. This understanding came about yesterday when I met another lady who told me that she had watched Beyaz grow since a puppy and they all loved and cared for him. She said that the vet had been yesterday and given him an injection, and when I suggested that the vet gave him an injection to put him to sleep forever, she looked aghast and horrified. I quickly explained, that in the UK, if a dog is old and ill with no quality of life, then we consider it to be the kind thing, to end their life, but clearly this was not an option for this poor dog.

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So, I shall visit him every day, sit with him and stroke him and hope that his end comes quickly.

Beginning of another school year

But this one is so different! For the first time since we left Cape Town, at the end of 2010, the four of us, Peter, Billy, Daisy and me, are living together again in our own home, albeit a rented one. It’s been an interesting journey getting us to this point, where we are all living in Istanbul. When we made the decision to leave Cape Town four years, I don’t think any of us would have imagined that our path would have been quite so circuitous – not uphill exactly, although when is it ever not a challenge?

After our first year back in the UK, when we were indeed altogether, but living in my long-suffering sisters house, Peter took up a new job in Saudi Arabia. Then moving to Istanbul last year allowed us to regain one member of the family whilst losing another.

So after making some tough decisions earlier this year, Billy has come to join us for a year or two in Istanbul, before we (hopefully but who knows?) move back to the UK.

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As I wrote in my posts last year, it was a very difficult time leaving Billy behind in the UK to weekly board and then spend the weekends with many loving and generous family members and friends. In hindsight was it the wrong decision for Billy to stay while we lived in another country? Maybe. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and many people have helped me not to see it as a mistake as we all learnt many things from it.

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Possibly the biggest lesson for all of us, is the value of family. Perhaps we all took it for granted a bit before, but now we all relish it, and when everybody gets on top of each other, then I for one, just pinch myself and remember how lucky we all are to all be together, enjoying life, learning lots, eating well, fishing and rollerblading along the Bosphorus, and continuing this journey together.

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My haul from the UK

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It was touch and go whether I got all my luggage on the plane back to Istanbul on Thursday – when I got on the bus from the rental car depot to terminal 3, the bus driver asked if I was flying business class? I shook my head. First class? Again no. He muttered something about no wonder the handle on my suitcase had broken and good luck getting that on economy.

Still, it all went fine and I managed with Daisy’s violin on my back, a hand luggage suitcase, handbag and duty free plus one incredibly heavy suitcase – thanks to Jed Hewson for carrying up 4 flights of stairs to our apartment in Istanbul 😉

Here is what I brought back –

A loaf of spelt bread
3 x packets salt and vinegar crisps
Waitrose pancetta
Saucisson
Pizza express pizza for daisy
2 x bottles of wine
2 x bottles of Jim Beam
Hundreds of bars of chocolate
Jar of horseradish
Jar of béarnaise
Jar of hollandaise
Egg noodles
1 kg soft brown sugar
1 kg caster sugar
Vanilla extract
Cake sprinkles
Cake candles
Cooking chocolate
Jordan’s cereal

My boy

So, one of the consequences of our new life in Istanbul, is that Billy has chosen to remain at school in the UK rather than attend the International School in Istanbul that Daisy has started at this week.

When we came out in late May to show a bit of Istanbul to Billy and Daisy, we timed it so that we could visit Daisy’s International School for their ‘fun day’ – an annual extravaganza a bit like a school fete in the UK but with the added attraction of an international food hall where all the nationalities showcase their national cuisines.

Billy was definitely tempted by the idea of being at school in Istanbul – cool new city, no uniform, so many different nationalities as potential friends (currently 45 with 35 languages being spoken) but then he asked if they play rugby in Turkey and when Peter supplied Billy with the definitive answer of ‘no’, that was mind made up for Billy.

Fast forward to this week and I have had the gut wrenching task of flying over to the UK with Billy in order to LEAVE MY LITTLE BOY BEHIND. Oh, how could I? As Emma put it, when the idea of Billy staying at school in UK was first mooted, ‘Billy will be fine, and you’ve just got to get over it!’

I have spoken to several dear friends this week who have all left a beloved child at a new boarding school and its not easy for anybody. At least for me, I was not leaving Billy at a new school, but trotting down the familiar corridors of Twyford Prep, I felt quietly reassured by the kind and good care I know they will take of my gorgeous boy.

I shall miss him so much and I know its part and parcel of him growing up and the natural turn of events but my heart is sore and heavy – a part of him is gone forever.

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Konyali Lokantasi

Day Two with Emma and Sam was a trip to Sultanahmet which is massively touristy but gotta be done. We started off in 2 taxis but the roads are always jammed down the coast from Ortakoy to the Galata Bridge which then leads over to the old district, so we all jumped out and onto trams instead which were not only faster but much cooler too.

The Hagia Sophia, once a mosque and before that a church, is now a museum and quite stunning. We glimpsed the blue mosque and had fun bargaining in the Grand Bazaar for some Turkish lamps and then had a few rounds of cards while sipping on Turkish coffees.

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For lunch we returned to an old favourite of Billy, Daisy’s and mine that we last visited when we were in Istanbul in May, Konyali Lokantasi. It’s a real gem of a restaurant that’s been going for years and years and welcomes both local workers and tourists although when we were there, it was mostly locals. It’s self-service cafeteria but overwhelmed with the choices, we were immediately helped by super friendly staff.

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And this is where our first introduction to doner kebabs came in – I don’t think I had ever had one before – and billy and daisy certainly hadn’t but we loved them. Beautiful succulent meat carved from the main spit into what looks like a dustpan but then served either on cubes of bread with a tomato sauce and a large dollop of yogurt, or the ubiquitous chips and rice.

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Emma and Sam

So Emma and Sam have arrived for a ten day holiday with us in Turkey, spending the first few days in Istanbul. We wanted to show them as many different aspects of life in Istanbul – from one of Peter’s high-end Mac health clubs, to a local market, to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet (the old quarter).

But of course most importantly we had to give them a flavour of what Istanbul has to offer in terms of food.

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We were lucky as on the first day we stumbled across our local market in Ortakoy (the suburb where we live and literally 10 mins walk from our apartment) and later found out it was one of the best neighbourhood markets.

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Once again fabulous food stalls piled high with beautiful vegetables – but also the most amazing street food. Fantastic Gozleme (turkish pancakes) filled with spinach and cheese and cooked on a sort of enormous skottle which were so light and crispy and absolutely delicious.

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And some gorgeous dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) that the lady proudly showed us.

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We got some homemade walnut baclava but we took those home for pudding!

Out of my comfort zone

I’ve been hankering after making a cake as havent done any baking for a month now and realise that its what makes me feel normal.

So I decided to head down to the supermarket with Peter when he went to work this morning and buy some sugar flour butter but boy, was is it ever difficult? You wouldnt believe how frustrating it is standing in a foreign supermarket with shelves of flour but no idea which one to get. Stupidly, as I had left on a spur of the moment decision, I hadnt brought a Turkish dictionary with me and my Turkish phone is not working at the moment as we have fallen foul of Turkish regulations and not registered it.

Eventually I gathered everything I might need including a cake tin, a purple spatula and some sachets of something I hoped might be baking powder – on literal translation at home I realise I have bought ‘pastry swelling dust’ – sounds about right to me!

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After Billy and Daisy raced down to help me lug the shopping 4 floors up (no lift), Billy made us omelettes for breakfast – the first time he has done it on his own after me showing him yesterday and delicious they were too.

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It was only after we had eaten the omelettes that I realised we had just eaten the eggs we were going to bake the cake with….