Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Day in Brooklyn

I have always wondered what lies beyond the highways we drive past on our way to a particular destination.  One particular place I have been both intrigued and a little timid about has been Brooklyn.  Living in the Tri-state area, Brooklyn is a city that is impossible to ignore. But how to take the courageous step to embark on a journey to the great unknown...

I finally decided to find someone in-the-know and called my mother's friend, Ann Marie Murray, one of the smartest and sweetest women I know, who also happens to be a Brooklynite, to accompany us on our expedition.

We left on a sunny Saturday morning and took the Verrazano Bridge to reach the only way to get to Brooklyn, Belt Parkway.  As beautiful as the view is, I simply hate this road because it is usually one big traffic jam, but on this day luck was on our side... it wasn't too bad.  We took the Bay Parkway exit and proceeded til we reached 86th Street.  Parking the car on the side of the street, we proceeded to discover our first stop ... 86th Street was the place Ann Marie's mother used bring them to on Saturdays for shopping.  For us, the restaurant on the corner of Bay Parkway and 86th, before we even turned into the Street signaled all the good things still to come.  Istanbul Fast Food Restaurant... they had a huge Doner (Gyro) already set and turning.  Even though we were supposed to have a lobster dinner, there was no way we were leaving without having some of that...

86th Street is a Foodie's delight; the whole street is full of international markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables, which reminded me a little of the Street Bazaars we used to go to in Turkey. We walked for two blocks til we reached our destination, a Russian Grocery Market, Cherry Hill, at the corner of 86th and 23rd Streets ... and we were lost. This place is amazing, all of us agreed that we would never cook if we lived nearby...

Cherry Hill Market

Istanbul Fast Food Restaurant 

After not being able to resist buying some Turkish breads and pastries we walked back to Istanbul Restaurant where we ordered a huge lunch of Doner (Gyro) which we finished off with some real Turkish coffee and baklava.  The meal got our approval and the restaurant is on our list of places to go for good Turkish food.

After 86th Street, we went to Ann Marie's old Neighborhood, Bensonhurst, and took pictures of the house she grew up in.  As she was telling us stories of her youth, we drove around to her school and the Jewish Deli she used to go to with a girl friend on Wednesdays when they had half day to have a hot dog and a knish.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like when she was growing up in such a diverse neighborhood where Italians, Jews lived side by side, aware of each other's customs and traditions, shopping in neighborhood shops for their specific delicacies.

Sharing Ann Marie's nostalgia was really rewarding; it was almost like we went back in time to a place that was completely foreign yet felt familiar at the same time.  As a  matter of fact, Brooklyn is such an ingrained part of the culture of this country, it is almost impossible to be ignorant of it.  I particularly remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, which left me with a strong impression and Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, which brings me to our next stop... Brighton Beach or Little Odessa as it is known today.

We needed to explore some more before we could bring ourselves to sit thorough another huge meal so we started to drive down Ocean Parkway towards the water. My little philosophy is when in doubt, going towards the water is always rewarding.  But first we drove by Prospect Park, another sight that is so familiar  from movies and tv...

Prospect Park, Brooklyn
 Driving down Ocean Parkway, it is easy to feel the diverse fabric of this area with Arab music halls, Mexican car washes and Indian nail salons all lined up right next to each other. Going straight down Ocean Parkway took us to a beach with a boardwalk that we had no idea was Brighton Beach. 

After strolling down the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, we decided it was time for dinner at Red Hook Lobster Pound.  I had gotten vouchers for a lobster dinner a couple of months ago which were about to expire soon.  The website stated that they got fresh lobsters from Maine each week and they were located in Brooklyn, which is part of the reason for the urgency to get to Brooklyn after all these years.  Red Hook Lobster Pound turned out to be a charming little store right next to the cruise terminals in Brooklyn. The food was delicious and the lack of soda or a restroom didn't bother us too much at this tiny, casual establishment but I would definitely get the lobster roll next time; as a matter of fact I am on the lookout for their truck that is supposed to be out in Manhattan.
Finally, as we were driving down Atlantic Avenue, trying to find our way back home, we noticed some very intriguing stores we just had to stop and visit.  Later we found out we were in an area between Caroll Gardens and Boerum Hill.  We just walked down two blocks going into stores, chatting with the owners and shopping.  The toy shop we went into Acorn, had me feeling like Alice in Wonderland; I am still infatuated with it.
Acorn Toy Shop
Our final stop was a cookie shop to have some coffee before we were back on the road to New Jersey.  We found One Girl Cookies in Cobble Hill (right around the corner from Atlantic Avenue.) We loved the coffee, we loved the cookies ... the perfect ending to this wonderful day.  The most befitting way to get home was of course, to take the Brooklyn Bridge... so, that's what we did... it somewhat softened the blow of leaving New York behind... but I plan to go back, soon!
Our strange and spontaneous itinerary
It is not so difficult after-all, all you need is a GPS and a sense of adventure.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Stuffed Green Peppers

Fall is finally upon us and the kids have gone back to school.  For those of us who have the 'empty nest' (both of my sons are in college now) it is pure delight when the kids come home to visit.

With this idea in mind, I have started to cook again... to cajole the boys back home for a home cooked meal, once a week.  Last  weekend, it was Dolma, the most basic staple in our home kitchen as they were growing up.  I am not sure if it is due living on Macaroni and Cheese for weeks on end or if it's just being back in their mother's kitchen but in either case, they were delighted, and are coming back for more...

Dolma was one of the first things I learned to make as a newlywed.  It is very easy to prepare and very delicious.  Honestly, I haven't met anyone who doesn't like a good Dolma. Here is my sure-thing recipe.

Etli Dolma, (Stuffed Green Peppers)

1Lb Green Peppers
1/2 lb Ground Beef or Lamb ( I usually mix the two)
1/2 cup rice (washed and drained)
1 large onion diced
1/3 cup Pomegranate Sour *
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 cloves garlic crushed
Salt and Pepper to taste
* You can find Pomegranate sour or Pomegranate Sauce in international food stores or online through Turkish foodstores. 

-  Mix all the ingredients except the green peppers together.
-  Take out the stems and the seeds from the green peppers - set the stems aside to use to close the 'Dolma'      after it is stuffed.
-  Stuff the green peppers with the meat filling.
-  You can leave them this way or close them with their stems or a piece of tomato on top.
-  Place the stuffed peppers in a pan standing with the open side on top.
-  Place a small plate over the 'Dolma' in order to prevent the filling from spilling.
-  Pour 1 cup of water over it.
-  Cook on high heat untill it boils then let it simmer for 1 hour.

Serve hot with yogurt with or without garlic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Great Turkish Cuisine, Perfect everytime

Although Bodrum might be famous for it's sun, sea and sand, there are those like my husband and myself, who will not be satisfied until they find the perfect meal.  In Bodrum, this is relatively easy since the available basic ingredients are so good anyway, that anyone with some knowledge of cooking can create a fairly decent meal.
Izmir Kofte over Begendi 
Then again, there are those exceptional establishments that should not be missed on any trip to Bodrum, like Kismet Restaurant in Konacik.   I honestly don't remember a single meal I have had here that I did not like.  Everything is so professionally prepared that you cannot find fault with anything.  There is a very nicely orchestrated way they display their daily dishes and the customers get to pick and choose to their heart's content.  There is a big display case as you enter the restaurant with all home style dishes, out for the customer's inspection.  The only difficulty might be with making a decision amongst so many wonderful choices.  Although I believe to each is own, I have to mention some of my favorites.  Their special of the day for Thursdays is Begendi, which is a heavenly creamed eggplant dish with bechamel sauce and kasari cheese. Begendi is probably one of most impressive Turkish specialties, but the way they prepare it at Kismet is a completely improvised version that is still divine. Begendi is usually served with tas kebabi, a classic stew but it is perfect with most meat dishes. Here we like to have it with Izmir Kofte, (fried meatballs in tomato sauce.)

Kurufasulye Pilav
The Kurufasulye Pilav (traditional Turkish rice and beans) is fantastic and my other personal favorite is the Ayse Kadin fasulye (Green beans cooked with tomatoe sauce) this is a dish that is usually served cold but here I have had it warm and loved it.

Deniz Borulcesi
The right side of the display case is devoted to salads, olive oil dishes and mezes  that are served cold.  They have a rich variety of local herbs that they use in their salads.  Here again our favorites are the kopoglu mancasi (eggplant with peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic yogurt) and deniz borulcesi (pickleweed salad.)

Make sure to leave room for Kalburabasti for desert. And after a perfect meal I love having my Turkish coffee in their authentic cups.

One word of advice - Get there right around noon, this is a favorite of the locals and it gets quite crowded. They can also run out of some specialties fairly quickly.

Kismet Lokantasi
Ataturk Bulvari Finansbank Arkasi (behind Finansbank) No 35/A
Konacik - BODRUM
Tel:     0252 319 0096
Mobile: 0532 470 7878

Monday, September 12, 2011

Long Branch - The end of summer

It's the end of summer and we have all pretty much returned to our normal lives.  Whether you journey to an exotic place, down the shore, or just have some time off from school or work, getting back to regular schedules and responsibilities is not so easy after the hot, carefree days of the season of respite.

With Labor day, close of the season is official but for those of us who are lucky enough to have some kind of access to the beach, we can still bask in the lingering effects of the sun, sea and sand.

Long Branch, New Jersey, is a great place in Central Jersey for an outing any time of the year.  Pier Village, right on the ocean, is full of shops and very nice restaurants and a variety of activities.

It is also only six miles away from my office and the 5 miles of walking back and forth on the board walk has been one of my favorite activities since I moved here almost 2 years ago.

Friday after work, I had no where to be and no one to see, so I decided to go to Long Branch.  I was not interested in dinner or shopping, just exercising and inhaling that salty smell of the ocean.

It turned out to be a very satisfying experience...

As I walked along, I ran into three weddings, families out for a stroll with their children, couples sitting and enjoying the beautiful view, people jogging, walking and even a musician playing her guitar as she gazed out to the ocean.  There were bands playing, surfers waiting to catch a wave, happy hours in full swing and an incredible sunset, with scenes that begged to be captured... I felt in accord with my surroundings, that is akin to what I feel when I am walking down the streets of New York, which is a very rare occurrence in my experience for New Jersey.
I don't know if it was the seemingly boundless ocean or the vast sky up above but it felt like we all belonged out there, underneath the same big sky. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Armaggan - A Mecca of Traditional Turkish Designs

I left the house with intentions of going to the covered bazaar one morning but after noticing the store Armaggan on Nuruosmaniye Boulevard, I didn't get that far.  It's hard to imagine a six story store filled with one of a kind hand made objects, fabric and clothing that are all produced according to traditional techniques, but this is what exactly what Armaggan is. More than a store, it is like an art gallery.  I especially loved the floor where they have the natural dyed cloths and ottoman inspired clothing. It is very close to the Grand Bazaar, making it a convenient stop for a day of exotic shopping.
Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, No. 65
34120 Fatih- Istanbul
Tel:  +90 212 522 4433

Akaretler - the hippest neighborhood for shopping

The architectural study of the Akaretler Row Houses was completed by Sarkis Balyan in late 19th century. These residences are one of the best examples of the civil architecture of 1870s with their neoclassical front design, lacking the influence of the previous Baroque and Rococo styles. These forms were the direct reflection of the first westernization moves, which affected the Ottoman Empire, not only in fields of science, art, agriculture and trade but also architecture and housing styles in the first quarter of 19th century. Row Houses are the first examples of the change at the time, from traditional stonework/wooden to stone or brick houses with 4-6 story row or block dwellings and detached houses with gardens.  1

The Akaretler Row Houses have been turned into galleries, restaurants and high-end shops as well as residences.

A trip to Akaretler is worth it just to see Sevan Bicakci's store.  He is an artistic genius whose work belongs in galleries and museums instead of jewelry stores.

Sevan Bicakci
Visnezade Mah. Sair Nedim Cad. No. 3 (1A)
Akaretler, Besiktas 34357
Tel:  +90 212 236 9199

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There are a row of cafe and restaurants where you can sit and rest or just people watch.
Sair Nedim Caddesi No.14
+90 212 258 2195


Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Great Restaurant Suggestions in Karakoy

I discovered a restaurant in Karakoy that I will add to my favorites in Istanbul for seafood.  Actually it turns out this restaurant and the one right next to it are my husband's favorite haunts while he is in Istanbul.  I was in the mood for seafood so I chose Karakoy Lokantasi but the one next door, Lokanta Maya, is supposed to be just as good. (Lokanta is Restaurant in Turkish.)

We were lucky enough to find a table out on the sidewalk since it was a warm summer night but the interior is truly lovely with blue tiles and a continental flair.

I don't want to name specific dishes because they were all very good.  To get the most out of your dining experience, you should take a look at the showcase and point to what catches your eye... I loved everything we ordered - the fried calamari, octopus salad, lakerda (pickled king fish) were to die for.

There seems to be a standard in most restaurants for meze prices - the mezes with vegetables or yogurt are around 5 to 7TL and the meze with seafood are from 15 to 20TL.
It was a fantastic meal with impeccable service.  I would definitely go back next time I am in town.

Karakoy Lokantasi
Kemankes Caddesi 37/A
Karakoy 34425
Istanbul - TURKEY
Tel:  +90 212 292 4455

Lokanta Maya, right next door to Karakoy Lokantasi, is a trendy restaurant that specializes in innovative, traditional Turkish Cuisine.  The chef, Didem Senol, who has studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York and worked at Le Cirque and Eleven Madison Park Restaurant before opening Lokanta Maya, also has a cookbook full of imaginative recipes using local herbs and produce for traditional favorites.  We have tried out some of her recipes with great success.

In order to show me what I had missed out on, my husband brought me here for desert, after our meal next door.  If the deserts are any indication, this is another place that should be on any self-respecting foodie's list for Istanbul.
Lokanta Maya
Kemankes Caddesi No. 35 A
Karakoy - Istanbul