23 October 2014

Pear Apple Crisp

It's autumn! Even here in Turkey. Every year for the last 12 years that I haven't lived in Michigan I long to be home for fall. At least early fall, it does have the tendency to snow stupidly early. There were many a Halloween I'm not even sure why we bothered with costumes to Trick or Treat since they were covered with heavy winter coats, scarves, mittens, and boots. However, for the brief time it is fall in Michigan it's a glorious thing.

Fruit, nuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Glorious.

When the trees turn the colors are amazing: gold, orange, red all burning against skies so blue they almost hurt. In the country you can smell people burning their leaves, after of course you've had a good time jumping into the leaf piles. Hayrides, you-pick pumpkins, apples, pears, stopping at road-side stands for some of the best apple cider on the face of the earth (unpasteurized if you're really lucky); this is how we do in Michigan. I don't miss much about my home state but I do miss that.

Michigan is becoming more and more well known as a beer state with micro breweries are popping up all over. What a lot people don't know though, because it so rarely makes it out of the state, is that Michigan is also full of wineries and cideries. I may have made up 'cidery'. Michigan hard cider is as coveted and amazing as the soft stuff. Throw in some sugared doughnut holes from a local bakery and life is bliss.

Feeling saucy and threw in some fried cranberries

Mixing by hand

Ready for the oven!

I always feel nostalgic in fall. One of my 18 uncles owned an apple and pear orchard and he would drop off bushels of them every once in a while during the season. I had no idea what the majority of produce cost until I moved to DC where I spent a minimum of $20 a week on Honeycrisp apples; far less than a bushel of them to boot. Because we always had such a surplus, crisp was a pretty frequent dessert at home. It's a little harder to make here because I can't find oatmeal. I believe Carrefour carries steel cut oats; but they are not the same and of course the price is highway robbery. Through visiting friends and my trip home in August I've built up a supply, albeit a dwindling supply.

My last Turkish class was last week and I took the opportunity of a class potluck to make a couple crisps. Normally what I would actually do is double the batch of crisp and press some into the dish as a crust as well as put it on top. However since oatmeal is a precious commodity here I put it only on the top.


I was not ready to stop there though! Crisp on its own is a wonderful thing but I wanted to go the extra mile and make caramel to pour over the top. I found a recipe that has no need for sweet & condensed milk or Karo syrup, the former being difficult to find here and the latter impossible. Sugar, butter, and cream - ingredient-wise it couldn't be easier! Making it was a slightly different story but the promise of luscious caramel beckoned.

It's not hard per say, just time consuming because sugar takes buggering forever to melt. And who makes pots and pans with metal handles?! Because while the sugar was heating so was the pot! Eventually I had to fold up a dish towel and use it to hold onto the pot handle which then ran the danger of the cloth catching on fire from the gas flame...

Oh it was beautiful. Baking is therapy for me and making two crisps (one for class one for me!) and making the caramel was soothing. But eating it was better! I ate crisp for breakfast for days. I might keep making this until my oatmeal supply runs out.

A crisp autumn day and a warm gooey dessert go together whether your view is of the chilling Bosphorus or of colorful fall leaves.

For the Crisp:

2 each pears, Granny Smith, and red apples*
2-3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Dash of salt
Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove to taste

Peel an slice or chop all the fruit, mix in dry ingredients, and set aside for a few minutes

1/2 Cup Oatmeal
1/2 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 Cup flour
Cinnamon to taste
6 Tablespoons cold butter

  1. Preheat oven at 350F
  2. Butter an 8x8 baking dish and pour in fruit
  3. In the same bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the topping then use your fingers or a pastry cutter to blend in the butter. Once everything is incorporated, sprinkle over the top of the fruit.
  4. Bake for 40-60 minutes depending on your oven. I'd check it after 40 and let it go longer as needed. You want the crumble top to be golden/browned but obviously not burned.
*The type of apples you use will affect both the flavor and consistency of the dessert. Some apples cook mushy while others retain a crispness. The sweeter the apple you use the less sugar you need. You can also add nuts, dried dates, (dried or fresh) cranberries...go wild.

For the caramel:
1 Cup granulated sugar
8 Tablespoons butter
120 ml (1/3 Cup-ish) heavy cream

  1. Over low heat, heat the sugar, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. This is going to take forever. Just keep going. Stirring constantly is important because you really don't want this to burn. When melted it should be a nice golden brown, well...caramel color. 
  2. Add the butter and stir until it is all incorporated. Be careful with this part because adding the butter will make the melted sugar go crazy. It will splatter so watch your hands.
  3. Once butter and sugar are fully incorporated, slowly drizzle in cream which will make the mixture boil and rise.
  4. Let boil for one minute then remove from heat.
  5. Optional: add salt to taste if you want salted caramel
The caramel can be stored for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You'll probably have to reheat it before pouring over anything. Or you could just spoon gooey caramel goodness and eat it straight. I'm not saying I did that...but you could.

21 October 2014

Giraffe Kisses

While in Nairobi my friends also took me to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife; more well-know as the Giraffe Center.

No adoptions here but lots of incredible one-on-one time with beautiful giraffes! One of the Giraffe Center's roles is the conservation and expanding the gene pool of the Rothschild Giraffe. You can see the difference between the Rothschild and Reticulated giraffes in my previous posts:

  • Regular shaped spots with clear white outlining
  • Pattern often extends down the leg

  • Less regular pattern than the Reticulated; splotchy like the Masai giraffe
  • Paler coat than the Masai giraffe
  • White stocking; below the knees there is no pattern on their legs
  • Only giraffe sub species with five ossicones (ie the bumpy horny doo dads) on its head
  • Taller than many other sub species at 6 meters (20 feet)

Not different though are their appetites and tongues! At the Center you can hand feed pellets to the giraffes and get your hand slimy and slobbered on by their long, black tongues.

I learned a lot of interesting things about giraffes here. For example, unlike the elephant which really does have a long memory, giraffes have limited short term memory and forget things within minutes. heir memories are so short that after five minutes of running away from a predator they'll forget why they're running and stop to graze again.

Even if a lion catches up it's apparently not much of a problem. Giraffe leg bones are solid, they have no marrow. I was able to handle a leg bone and it was shockingly heavy. They use these solid legs for kicking other animals. A well-placed kick is not just a deterrent but could even kill another animal.

Possibly most amazing is that giraffes can delay giving birth for up to three months. I've never bee pregnant but my first reaction to hearing this was horror. With a normal gestation period of 15 months (!) why on earth would any creature want to delay that?! So they can give birth in a safe, predator free, hopefully vegetation rich area. That did not even occur to me. Brilliant.

Kisses from Lynn

The Center is home to nine giraffes, two bulls and seven cows that have lived there for their entire life. They do breed but calves are released into the wild at the age two. The Center is partially responsible for raising the amount of Rothschilds in the wild from just a few hundred to 1200...which still makes them endangered. Because the nine have been here for their entire lives though they are very accustomed to people and eagerly eat pellets from your hand; just be sure to hold the pellet properly or you could lose a finger!

And then there's Lynn. Lynn is 18 and is one of the friendlier giraffes; she gives kisses. If you hold a pellet gently between your lips she'll use her mobile, flexible lips to take it from you. Thankfully, on many levels, there is no tongue involved! Something I've never realized though is that giraffes have very whiskery chins. So no slobber but I did get a little whisker burn!

20 October 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla Kirte

Suvla has two Kirtes. A while back I reviewed the other Kirte (a Cabernet Sauvingnon, Syrah, Petit Verdot blend) and last week I picked up the other at the Suvla shop in Cihangir. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc blend.

And wow. I did not think I would like this one as much because, you know, Merlot. Ick. But if the Merlot had anything to do with the flavor of this Kirte I may even be moved to try Suvla's Merlot varietal.This Kirte isn't as pretty as a couple of the previous reds, it's more of a murky garnet red.

Although frankly, the flavor of anything is going to be massively enhanced if you're simultaneously enjoying the sunset and view out my window!

The Kirte's nose was richly red (which I've decided is a thing) especially with  cherries and something else...raspberry, maybe? If the nose made me smile, the flavor made me sing. Although not really because my cat really isn't a fan of my singing.

From the first sip the Kirte explodes with fruit! Every word I have to describe the Kirte is followed by an exclamation mark: Fruity! Juicy! Berries! Cherries! The palate is saved from being glorified juice (although darn good juice) by the subtle, but solid back bone of spice that gently lets you know its there right at the end of the sip. It doesn't have the most remarkable finish, (this) Kirte is more about the now...but now is a very good with this wine, especially at only about 41TL for the bottle.

For the Americans out there, I found out that Suvla has a store front in New York! You should check it out-you won't be sorry!

18 October 2014

Anyone Want to Adopt an Elephant?

I might need two posts for this. We were only at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for an hour, which is all the time it's open each day, and I took over 500 pictures. Not hard to do because the center's youngest rescue, Mbegu, is the cutest thing.

I could have watched her try to crawl out of the mud pit forever.

She face planted a lot. This little girl is totally my spirit animal. I like to think that I'm one of the big cats, especially since I'm a Leo and all...but Mbegu and I share the inability to stay on our own two (or four in her case) feet.

Then just as she managed to get out...she turned around and splashed right back in!

The David Sheldrick center functions as an orphanage for elephants cross Kenya. After they're rescued they live at the orphanage until they're about five years old and then are released, usually in Tsavo, where they find and attach themselves to a herd as an adopted family. All the elephants received bottled formula hourly but babies get fed whenever the heck they want. As such, the guys who work with them live on site, many of them sleep in the stalls with the elephants. However no one person works continuously with one elephant so the animals don't get attached and/or too accustomed to people. It's for that same reason that the center is open for only one hour a day.

Mbegu again-seriously the rest may as well not have been there

It costs about $900 per day per elephant to take care of them and the orphanage does not limit how many they take in. At the time of my visit I believe there were 26. To offset the cost there is of course an entrance fee, which is surprisingly minimal (1000 Kenyan Schillings ($10) I think it was) but the main sources of funding come from donations and adoptions. You can adopt any one of the elephants and check up on its progress on the center's website. I of course adopted Mbegu :)

Love how they use their knees

Face plant again

The day we visited there were also several schools making a visit. My friends and I marveled at the students as much as we did the elephants. The center's rules are pretty simple: no cell phone use, only touch the elephants if they come near the rope, and do not talk or make noise. No American five year old that I have ever been around, let alone 50-60 of them could keep quiet for 10 minutes but these little kids were quiet and still for a full hour. They were better behaved than a lot of the visiting adults. It was kind of amazing.

Check out all the pictures of Mbegu and the other orphaned elephants on our Google+ and Facebook pages!

15 October 2014

Safariing in Samburu

Now is the time to smoosh together everything that's not an elephant, giraffe, lion, or zebra; which stills leaves a lot of interesting things!


The most easily spotted animals were baboons and the various antelope. Baboons really are wretchedly ugly creatures. I feel predisposed to disliking them as they're known for attacking leopards when really I think things should go the other way around. We did see a few baby baboons though which were proof positive that babies are always adorable; even if they grow up to be ugly.

I love the bird nests in these trees

There were so many types of antelopes! Waterbucks, gerenuks also called giraffe antelopes because of their very long necks, gazelles, oryx, and dik-diks. The miniature dik-diks were my favorite of the antelopes. At only 14-17 inches tall and weighing in at 12 pounds these little guys are smaller than my mom's Pomeranian. And the horns on the males are so tiny it was sometimes hard to spot them. They mate for life so you (almost) always see them in pairs or maybe in trios if they have off spring. Our guide told us that when one of the pair dies the other dies of loneliness within six months.

Trying to hang on!

Oryx mixing with the baboons

I also enjoyed the oryx, not only because it made me think of Margaret Atwood's excellent Oryx and Crake (which I freely admit I understood not in the least but still enjoyed) but because I was fascinated by their horns. Growing up in the country around hunters I'm well accustomed to seeing deer about; although usually dead on the side of the road or hanging in my dad's barn. I always refused to go in his barn during bow or gun season because you never knew when or what might be hanging there. Shudder.

No idea what's going on here

All I could think when I saw these was "yum"

We also saw lots of birds, most of which I wasn't able to photograph properly. I did get a shot of a horn bill and that sighting alone made my Lion King watching prep worth the time!

We didn't see many gerenuks but they're rather interesting

More bird nests

I was kind of obsessed with these trees!

Even when we weren't spotting animals I wasn't bored because the scenery was remarkable on its own.

Horn bill

Water buck

Water bucks again

More water buck

Adorable dik-diks
This was truly an amazing trip worth waiting 35 years to experience. Of course now I want to go to Tsavo which is known for its cat sightings or to the Serengeti in Kenya or Tanzania. Next time though, I will definitely spring for the telephoto lens before I go!

Me safari ready!