Sunday, August 31, 2014

Istanbul Flashbacks

Waah so I have a lot of catching up to do, you guys. I am currently in Boston (in the States? What??), but before I get to that I'm gonna jump back to my week in Istanbul.

I seriously loved that city. I was there back in the beginning of July visiting my wonderful Moroccan friend from my days in Tangier part one, who moved to Istanbul about 8 months ago. Currently, he's teaching English classes, being passed off as an American from LA. Classy. So while he was working, I was out exploring on my own and he got to show me his favorite nooks and crannies on the weekend.

Let me tell you, there was an overwhelming amount to see. And most importantly, eat.

My friend was lucky enough to live relatively within walking distance (I say relatively meaning like 20 minutes, but I'm a crazy fast-walker) to the hip, bustling Taksim Square. So my first sights were wandering around the big open center and off onto the crowded shop-laden side streets.

Here I discovered a shop with the best Turkish Delight I've ever had called Haci Bekir, watched some guy make a whole show out of serving a little girl a scoop of ice cream, went to some great little local bars with my friend, and ate a lot of street food- my favorite being these clam shells stuffed with rice, clam meat & spices with a squeeze of lemon. Everyone I tell this to says "oh my god, you ate seafood from the street??" Meh. It was delicious and I'm still alive.

Later in the week my friend took me to a restaurant also around the Taksim area that had the most amaaazing Turkish food that was like stuff your imaginary Turkish mother would make you. There's a whole buffet of dishes to choose from and you can pick up to 5 for a ridiculously cheap price.

Most of the more touristy things I did on my own, and honestly found them to be a bit underwhelming. I saw the Aya Sofya Mosque from the outside which was lovely, but didn't want to wait in line (bein' lazy), especially when you could just breeze on into the blue mosque. So I opted to go into that one instead, which was stunning with intricate blue and red tile-work and lush carpets. The area around these mosques, however, had a few too many aggressive tour guides and vendors yelling at me for my taste.

The Grand Bazaar was near there too- I meandered through the narrow arches for a bit and almost bought a lamp.

I did go on a great boat tour that was just 10 lira and took you around both the European and Asian coastlines for about an hour and a half. You get to see astonishingly intricate palaces and beautiful beachside homes. Plus getting off your feet for that long is the best.

After Rome the week before, I didn't really feel a burning need to go see more museums, but I did check out Istanbul Modern one afternoon. The general collection wasn't exactly my thing, but there was a photography exhibit comparing old and new Istanbul that was beautiful and definitely worth the trip.

Also, if you're down in that area near the museum, walk around and maybe you'll stumble on this awesome staircase, surreptitiously wedged between two large buildings:

Last but not least- do not leave Istanbul without trying the best baklava you will have in your life at this place.

No I did not eat all of that by myself. But I could have.

Anyway, that's all just my humble advice & experience in Istanbul. Go see this city for yourself and tell me what I missed, for next time.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Roman Holiday (sans Gregory Peck)

Before I say anything about my 4 day trip in Rome, you should know something about me. My favorite movie is Roman Holiday. I've seen it probably at least 7 or 8 times. Because of this, the idea of going to Rome (although it was my second time there) is a bit romanticized in my head. I always pictured myself  in a little white blouse eating gelato on the spanish steps and riding around on the back of a motorbike with Gregory Peck.

However, since my stomach would swell up like a balloon if I ate real gelato and I now have my own wonderful version of Gregory Peck back at home in Morocco, neither of those things seemed quite appropriate. So my friend Melissa and I did a lot of other good things instead.

Let me take you on a little photo journey of the highlights:

Melissa and I (being sort of art history geeks) both agreed that one of our favorite things we saw was the Gallery Borghese, surrounded by the lovely Borghese Gardens.

I know I know there are sooo many museums to see in Europe, but the Bernini statues displayed in the Borghese are worth a trip. Believe me.

We attempted to hit all of the major tourist attractions later each day (after 6pm) so as to avoid the high noon crowd with the walking headsets and tour guides frantically waving umbrellas. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. We managed to see the Colosseum during the tourist lull, but the spanish steps and Piazza del Popolo were a bit crazy. Sometimes it was like dodging tidal waves. 

We did a lot of walking around the quaint little side-streets until we would stumble on gems like a raw vegan gluten-free gelato shop. Sound impossible? Nope. It was all of that plus one of the most delicious things I've ever put in my mouth. Grezzo saved my life from being eternally gelato-less.

And of course, my favorite thing about Italy. Each evening we attended a magical thing called aperitivo, in which you buy one drink between the hours of 6 and 9pm and are provided with free dinner.

Well, technically you just get mini appetizers, salads and things from a buffet table near the bar, but if you load up your plate 2 or 3 times and ignore the stares from haughty Italians who know exactly what you're doing, that's a full meal right there. My favorite bar we went to was a cozy little hole in the wall called Caffe Bohemien. It was complete with comfy couches, antique books on the shelves, a chandelier over the bar, good food, and the best aperol spritz I've ever had.

Let me tell you- 4 days in this city is not enough. I feel like there are so many nooks and crannies that are just waiting to be explored, plus I love having the chance to learn and practice more Italian. Audrey Hepburn began my fantasized romance with Rome, but my own sliver of experience has caused a real love of the place to bloom.

I would love to hear if anyone has other suggestions for next time (fingers crossed) I get to visit!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Peach Pie Crumble Bars

Okay, I have no excuse anymore. It's deep summer. I am finished with work (for the most part). I am on a sort of vacation and suddenly I have this funny thing called free time. What do I do with myself for the next month?

Here's my plan so far:
-travel until I'm broke
-read more books
-bake things for friends and make them happy
-write for this blog again

Actually, I've already got the first one covered. I am currently in the midst of a two week trip to Rome, Istanbul and Barcelona. Travel stories and photos coming soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to give you guys a little sweet taste of what I've been cookin' up in my kitchen. These bars are like a summery explosion in your mouth. Nothing beats butter, sugar and fresh peaches. Make these, sit on the grass with bare feet, soak up some sun, and be happy.

Peach Pie Crumble Bars
(vegan option)
adapted from The Tart Tart

makes about 12 bars

245g flour
75g rolled or instant oats 
110g sugar
40g brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
180g cold butter, cubed (or can easily substitute cold vegan margarine for vegan option)
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water

1 kilo fresh peaches or nectarines, cut into small cubes
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orang blossom water (optional)
juice of half of a lemon
85g brown sugar
15g cornstarch

Preheat your oven to 190ÂșC. Start by mixing all of your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the cold butter, using your fingers to combine until it reaches a sandy texture. Mix in the cornstarch and water and form 2/3 of the dough into a ball, placing in the fridge while you make the filling. The other 1/3 of the dough should stay crumbly, but you can put that in the fridge to chill out too.

Mix all of the filling ingredients in a bowl and stir well to coat the peaches completely. Set aside.

Take out your dough and press it into the bottom of a well-greased 9x9" pan. Spoon the peach filling evenly on top, and sprinkle with the remaining crumbly dough. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the top starts to turn golden brown. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes before cutting into bars.

Yes, I know it's hot and your oven will only make it hotter. These are worth it. Sorry not sorry.