Feeling a bit under the weather this morning, there was nothing for it but a quiet morning at home; and my mind turned to baking! I had offered to make something for Daisy’s school disco and bake sale tomorrow so decided to make some Christmas rocky road brownies.
I used a recipe of Nigella’s that does not use ‘good’ chocolate but just good ol’ Dairy Milk, as the decent stuff is hard to come by here (and expensive) and frankly, I’m mean – I want to keep my stash, carefully lugged from the UK, for our family Christmas baking.
Anyway, I had a lot of fun decorating the brownies before they went in the oven – sprinkling red glitter over, studding the mixture with white chocolate stars and mini Marshmallows (thank you Waitrose) and Christmas tree wafers and then a finally dusting of icing sugar when they came out of the oven.
I am very happy to report that this half term holiday, Billy has decided he wants to learn to cook.
Obviously being here in Istanbul, with no friends to go and hang out with, we need to be creative in finding things to occupy Billy, as seeing his family again, wears thin very quickly…
Having finally got our shipping container delivered on Friday, Billy’s first inspiration came from my stash of cookbooks being unpacked. Billy and Daisy had fun arranging them all on a book shelf in sections of different types of cooking, with the baking section, obviously taking pride of place.
So, the first thing Billy made was the Chocolate Birthday Cake from Jo Wheatley’s A Passion for Baking – she was the winner from the Great British Bake off in 2011 – of course made all the more topical with all the hype surrounding the most recent series.
I have to say, he did pretty well and this is the result.
Today, Billy decided to make his first pasta sauce which involved a trip to our new butcher in Bebek. They were recommended by our favourite coffee shop (think Monmouth and you’ll understand how good they are) and it was great to watch them strip down a couple of chickens for us in order to take the thigh and leg meat – Billy and I were in awe.
This is Billy with his new best friend, the butcher, as he gave him a chocolate muffin!
Anyway, it was great to watch Billy getting stuck into chopping the chicken, onions, garlic, parsley, etc learning how to skin the tomatoes – and here is the finished result – a chicken and tomato pasta sauce with some aubergine sneaked in by me!
Hopefully you haven’t noticed it has been over a month since I posted on this new blog. The thing is, I can’t write if I’m miserable because the only thoughts in my head are miserable ones, and who wants to read about misery? No positive inspiration = no blog posts. I guess professional writers learn to deal with that.
But yesterday I went to my local market, a mere 10 minute walk down very steep, narrow, cobbled roads. Actually, from where we are, perched up on the hill, I can watch the market being set up below from 7am.
So, with nothing in mind for supper, I came across a wonderful fish stall, and boy, did it look fresh – shining scales and bright eyes. So I bought 2 lufer, aka blue fish which we had heard about as being in season at the moment and rather a local speciality.
This was my market haul, rather a small one as back off to the UK again on Friday. Courgettes are still around and I was so happy to see the appearance of broccoli.
I used the tomatoes and olives to stuff the fish and along with the addition of some unctuous olive oil, lemon and parsley, they were baked on Peter’s new griddle pan, and were completely divine 😉
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
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
1 kg soft brown sugar
1 kg caster sugar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And some gorgeous dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) that the lady proudly showed us.
We got some homemade walnut baclava but we took those home for pudding!
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!
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.
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….
Here is some of the wonderful market produce in season at the moment in turkey.
This photo looks like I’ve styled a still life, but in all honesty, its just everything we bought in the market!
We made a fig, walnut, green bean and sheeps milk cheese salad for lunch which we had with our left over chicken sis kebabs.
Tonight we’re going to make a pasta sauce with the local salami – its quite a wet one and spicy so should crumble down to make a nice sauce with all those fat ripe tomatoes and the aubergine and a large dollop of that delicious local olive paste.
And peaches for pudding that come from trees surrounding the village. Even the olive oil is made from olive groves just half an hour further up the hill from here.
It took me a while to realise this was a play on the Four Seasons Hotel, but they state their four values as their four reasons – serenity, attitude, quality and design – and they pretty much have those in bucketfuls.
High points – gorgeous serenity, peace and a certain retreat-like quality as the hotel is nestled up in the hillside overlooking the small fishing town of Yalikavak about 20 minutes from Bodrum further into the Bodrum peninsula, and of course fantastic views.
The service is wonderful – very personal with Ali, Birol and Serhat doing their utmost to ensure you are looked after to their best ability. Occasionally the service was a tad slow when they were busy attending to somebody else, but their attitude and desire to please are outstanding.
The main low point is the food which is occasionally good – panfried sea bass salad and Billy was particularly partial to their meatballs – but mostly just ok. A bit disappointing but when we asked ourselves why we kept eating in the bistro night after night rather than trekking into town, we realised we loved the setting. So we were prepared to overlook the clumsy cooking and chill out with a delicious glass of Turkish rose. My advice to the chef is simplify – live up to the values of a bistro – simple flavours and let them speak for themselves.
There were a few irritating things like having to pay for water and espresso which frankly should be included in a hotel of this price. Oh, and the beds were very uncomfortable, although slightly improved by a soft mattress topper after the first night but still not great.
Would we come back? Absolutely, loved our 5 days here – definitely 4 reasons to come back.