Monday, March 31, 2014

Make Room for a Sister Birthday Celebration!

 My Sis is a year older (and wiser, no doubt) and we have celebrated another themed event!
This year she had to try to put the pieces together as to what that theme would be by these two clues:

The (Walker Brothers) Original Pancake House in Wilmette

 We went there for breakfast on Friday morning.  She had never been there before and really seemed
to enjoy the ambiance and cuisine.  From the outside this restaurant doesn't look like anything
special, but inside it has wonderful stained glass (vintage) windows and lighting fixtures.

 Here she is taking a picture of her Dutch Baby...yum!
Being sisters, we both ordered the same thing.

Served with fresh lemon wedges and powdered sugar = perfection.
The next stop in the birthday quest is going to the theater to see this
 quirky movie:


I think she was getting concerned with the theme by this point...but I assured her that concerns about it being about a walker were unfounded.  That wouldn't have been very nice, would it?

We enjoyed the movie and headed home with her gifts in the trunk.  She was starting to put two and two together that the theme had something to do with houses/places to live.

The inspiration for this theme was actually found in the December 2013
Reader's Digest Magazine in an article titled,
"10 Rooms You Should Have in Your House of Life"
(Thanks, Marti for your big part in finding and finessing this into reality!!)

For a link to the article click here:

This article really gets at the heart with "rooms" of art, letters, music, religion, sentiment,
sports, food, children, work and outdoors. 

10 rooms meant 10 stitching projects!  These are actually little 4 inch pockets to
tuck clues of the gift to come on top of the packages.

Some of the gifts are serious and others are just downright goofy like the bug-zapper racket (outdoors "room") or the vintage poodle-to-crochet-and-slip-over-a-pop-bottle kit ("work" room).

The greenish hat towards the top is for the "sentimental" room and is made from 
one of Mom's sweaters.

That poodle sure looks like a lot of work, Sis!  
Luckily, you made one before so it should come right back to you...even if it was
 maybe some 50+ years ago???And I'm sorry I mauled it while you were in school...


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sweet, Sweet Instanbul

Yes, this is the menu and it consists of ONLY sweets!

When you want to go out for a sweet treat at any time of the day and you find an entire book menu filled with tempting treats, you must be in Istanbul! 

Just for fun, I took pictures of some of the choices one has to make: be prepared to have eyes bugging and mouth watering!

Baklava (with all sorts of variations, even chocolate)!
Ice cream!
Fruit tarts!

The hardest part is choosing only one and which one.
The easiest part is being with friends who like to eat sweets as much as you do.

L to R:  Brenda, Chris, Rhiannon, Wes, Leonardo 

Wes and I also managed to find time to go for Turkish "Fika" a time or two on our own.

At this place we shared the best dessert EVER...a profiterole (puff pastry with cream inside)
submerged in a bowl of chocolate pudding with chocolate morsels suspended in the chocolate mix.
With shaved chocolate curls on the top.  Chopped pistaschios, too.


In the background you see Turkish tea to be enjoyed with the treat.  We brought back a set of these
glasses and base plates as a way to remember our time in Istanbul.

And, I have to figure out a way to replicate this pudding treat!!!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Istanbul Gastronomy

The most common question asked upon returning from a trip abroad is,  "So, how was the food?" 

Very typical fare: the kebab (de-skewered) with veggies and a yogurt dipping sauce.

I would like to report that the gastronomy did not disappoint!


[ga-stron-uh-mee] Show IPA
the art or science of good eating.
a style of cooking or eating.

1805–15;  < French gastronomie  < Greek gastronómia
 Mediterranean style would probably fit the description for cuisine we encountered: fruits, veggies,
meats - especially lamb, fish, beef and chicken.  Gyros. Kebabs.
Here's the dining area in our hotel and where we ate our complimentary breakfast every day.  It was on the ninth floor and has a spectacular view of the city from those windows.

Many types of olives, beans and veggies

Breads of all types.  The bowl of dark spread on the left: pureed grape leaves.

Fruit bar with toppings

Yes, this is a honeycomb! A whole honeycomb with the best.honey.ever.

Cheeses.  My favorite?  The herbed cheese squares basking in a bowl of olive oil.  Yum!
 Many meals started out with soup and/or salad (heavy on the veggies, light on the lettuce) and bread and cheese.

Check out this meatball in the shape of a little sweet potato.  It was spicy and good!

I'm sorry I can't remember what the appetizer on the right is called --- but it was tasty, too.
What came as a bit of surprise was the pizza.  It even came with a side order of fries. Fries were often a regular part of a meal - sometimes served with rice on the side, too.

Stews are also a popular dish. Note that it is served on a bed of mashed potatoes with a side scoop of rice.

A couple of times we had delicious gyros served up by street vendors.
We were impressed by the cleanliness of the restaurants and vendors and had
no qualms about the "safety" of foods served.
Most impressive of all to me?  The sweets!  So much to show and tell about those that you'll have to wait for a post entirely on these morsels of heaven.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mosques and Minarets in the Skyline

Go to Istanbul and you will see a very different skyline than what we see back home.  The skyline here is peppered with over 3,000 mosques and accompanying minarets...and more are being built.
Minarets are a visible indicator of a Muslim community nearby as their spires reach towards the sky.
The domes of the mosque are unique as well.

Our first mosque visit took place on our first full day in Istanbul.  With our very knowledgeable
tour guide, Taner Unal, we were hooked up to devices where he could talk right into our own headphones so as not to distract others in the mosque with our conversations.

 Here it is - the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii). The mosque, built in the early 1600s,
is not blue on the exterior; the name comes from the blue Iznik tilework decorating the interior of the mosque.  This is a mosque with six minarets which is most impressive.

One must follow the rules when visiting a mosque in Istanbul. Women are required to cover their heads/hair and will be required to wrap a cloth around her waist if too much leg is visible.
No shoes for anyone once inside the mosque.  And, no loud conversations!

The tile work is simply beautiful!

Female Muslims are not allowed in the main area to pray.  They have small rooms to the side of the main area to congregate and pray.  Five times a day the stereo speakers from the minaret send forth
a "live" summons to the devout with a somber chant-like call to pray: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night. As mentioned in an earlier post, there is a heavy population of Muslims here, but few actually practice their faith in the mosques.  We never saw big crowds here aside from the heavy presence of tourists.

Our second mosque visit was to the New Mosque (Yeni Cami).  It really isn't all that new.
It was started in 1597 and completed in 1663.
Located near the Spice Bazaar, it was easy to see and visit and was pretty with tile work as well.
Two minarets for this mosque.

 Thankfully, mosques can be visited in all kinds of weather.

We had our share of rainy days, but the sunny days and NO SNOW more than made up for it!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Following RC in Istanbul: Please Be Seated

On our first full day in Istanbul I managed to sit ---not once but TWICE --- in the same place as a famous actor ( I am not writing his name officially here as I do not want Internet stalking) who is from Australia and who won recognition for his role in the film Gladiator.  Initials:  RC with a further clue of his last name being the same as a black, squawking bird with an "e" at the end.

This actor is filming a new movie in Istanbul and here is a link to that movie:

On that first day we were out and about in the city.  One of our stops was to a fabulous
Turkish rug establishment.  We were given a history of the craft as well as a show of different samples.
It was most impressive, and not only was tea served, but we were told that Wes and I were seated in the place where RC sat just a day ago!

Where you see the tea cups is where we sat and he sat! 
Normally I don't sit where famous posteriors have sat, so I felt like I had experienced life in a faster lane than my usual traffic pattern.  I know, I know...don't let this get to my head, right?

Later that same evening, we had our Welcome Dinner at a fun restaurant at water's edge.Wouldn't you just know it; RC had been there just a day before, too!  Due to a very friendly waiter and a bit of friendly pushiness on my part, that same waiter escorted me right to the place RC had sat the day before.  I posed by his private table and a picture was taken.  I must've seemed quite starstruck to the staff because they escorted me to the office area of the restaurant and brought up the picture of RC at the table on the computer monitor!  Gutsy me asked if I could take a picture of that picture and here you have that, too.  Notice our expressions are much the same in each picture.

I know...I know. Must. Not. Let. This. Give. Me. A. Big. Head.

By the way, I must also confess I have never been a big fan of RC.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Istanbul: 10 Days of Terrific and 20 Minutes of Terrible

We're back!  Istanbul is a place like no other we have ever visited and we enjoyed our ten days in Turkey very much --- with the exception of about 20 minutes. (More on that later.)
The purpose for the trip was to explore the economy, culture, businesses and nonprofit organizations
within the country with a group of graduate students, alumni and faculty from North Park University.

I will be doing quite a bit of blogging about this trip in more detail in future posts.
For now, the basic facts:

*Istanbul has a population of about 15 million people.
*Though considered a secular country, Muslims account for about 99 % of the population.
*What a history this city has:  evidence all over of the Roman Empire,  the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.
*Water surrounds the city with the Black Sea, the Bosphorous River and the Marmara Sea.
*Temperatures at this time of year - mostly in the 40s.  We had both sunny and rainy days.
*The government is known for its corruption and election results are highly discussed.
*Great cuisine!  Mediterranean basics with fruits, veggies and great baked goods!
*Lovely people!

Are you senses piqued yet?

Each day brought us new delights for the senses.  Then, late Tuesday night of our second week, we had a new sense to experience:  tear gas.  It was terrifying and horrible.  We were sitting in a restaurant close to our hotel with three others from our group.  There was a confrontation between the police and demonstrators (the link is available for your perusal below as to why) and the action spilled into our restaurant unexpectedly.  The gas was fired from a police canister right near us and immediately made vision impossible with thick smoke.  And intense burning to the eyes, breathing difficulty, and pain to the skin.  Chaos.  Tables were tipped over and glasses were breaking as the crowd tried to find fresh air and safety.  Our group also was separated and I "lost" Wes in the scuffle.  It was about the scariest time in my life thus far...and then it was over.  We reunited with our group and walked back to the hotel,
grateful to be safe but still very much in a state of shock.  I will never forget this experience, but am determined not to let this be a defining moment in the negative aspect of our travels.
Unfortunately, others weren't so lucky to escape unscathed.
Here's the link about the event:

If I would be given the question as to whether I would have cancelled the trip if I knew this was going to happen, I would say no.  It's good to keep a perspective as to what others have to live with on a more regular basis, and how one should never take safety for granted!

Now, from this point forward, I will not dwell on this 20 minutes of terror, but rather the 10 days of pleasure!