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2013 July

Açma: Turkish Bagels

AçmaWhen we were in Istanbul, Eric and I became simit-dependent. Simits are toothsome bagel-shaped breads, usually topped with sesame seeds. Our favorite variety, a sweet and yeasty take on the original, is called açma. These hearty breads are sold all over the city for 1 Turkish lira, and boy howdy, will they fill you up. It’s a whole meal for 50 cents. I had despaired of ever having them again (Except! It appears that there is a Greek variant called koulouri! Katy, can you confirm or deny?), but then Eric found a few recipes here and there online, and I became determined to try!

AçmaSo much of our experience in Istanbul is tied up in this bread. On our first morning, we woke up at 5am in a jet-lagged delirium and ate a quick breakfast at home. We didn’t venture out into the city until 10am or so, at which point we were getting really hungry (and getting really lost). The Golden Horn sparkled in the sun, a mirage at the end of a winding cobbled street, and, glory of glories, a simit stand was right in front of it. We got one of both kinds, and I exclaimed with wonder as I bit into my açma, “It tastes like curry!”

AçmaThe secret seemed to lie in those mysterious black seeds–I had never seen them before. After a lot of googling (“Hey, what are those black seeds on Turkish breads?”), I discovered the answer. These precious gems go by a number of names: nigella seeds, black caraway seeds, and black cumin seeds. They pack the most delicious punch: a deeply savory curry flavor laced with a hint of lemon. They are completely amazing, and I was thrilled to find them at our trusty Armenian market here in town. Now I had the proper tools to recreate all our perfect breakfasts and afternoon snacks (we actually took several of them on the plane home with us, so loath were we to part with them).

AçmaNow, about how to make these beauties. I used to be really intimidated by yeasted breads until about a month ago. It’s crazy how something can seem so beyond reach until you just decide that you are going to do it. The dough for the açma is really similar to the dough for the pide I made recently. The only remotely complex part is that you have to let the yeast sit in warm water for five minutes before you mix the flour in. Otherwise, mix and let sit. Nothing too hard. It feels like a whole new world has been opened up to me (challah, I am coming for you!), and I feel like such a champ when I think of all the things that used to sound totally impossible to me, but that now I make all the time (to be fair: this list includes everything except grilled cheese and spinach lasagna).

AçmaThis dough is also very forgiving, as I can report with full authority. I set it out to rise before we went to Griffith Observatory on Saturday, and then I completely forgot about it until 10pm or so. No harm done! Just a little zealous dough ready to be rolled out.

AçmaThe wonderful thing about shaping these breads is that you just dip your hands in a bit of oil beforehand, and then the whole process is smooth and easy.

AçmaWhen all your little pretties are shaped, you coat them in egg yolk and sprinkle nigella seeds like precious black rain over them (I am obsessed. I admit it. This is one life-changing spice right here).

AçmaThey bake up beautifully and make your whole house smell like yeasty goodness. I think I lightly overbaked this batch, but that’s okay because I am sure another batch will soon be on its heels.

AçmaIt’s wonderful to be able to recreate a little bit of our trip here at home. Every bite takes me back to cobbled streets and tiny glasses of perfect tea.

Açma: Turkish Bagels
Recipe adapted from I Love Turkish Cooking

Makes about 15

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tbsp dry baking yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil, plus more for shaping dough (I used canola oil)
1 egg (separate yolk from the white)
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp black cumin seeds (or as many as your little fingers can sprinkle!)

-Pour warm water into a large bowl (the bowl of your stand mixer, if you are using one). Add the sugar and yeast and stir it with a wooden spoon for just 5-6 seconds. Wait for about 5-6 minutes. During this time the yeast will grow.
-Add the milk, egg white, 2/3 cup of oil and salt, and mix them in.
-Add in the flour slowly, one cup at a time, and mix with your stand mixer or hand-held mixer until the flour is completely incorporated.
-Cover the bowl and let rise until the dough rises and doubles in volume (several hours).
-Heat the oven to 400F and grease your pans, or line with parchment paper.
-Pour several tablespoons of oil onto a large plate and dip your hands into it before working with the dough. Take one handful of dough at a time, about the size of your fist, and stretch it into a long cylinder. Then twist this cylindrical dough and wrap it around your hand until the two sides are joined together. Place the rounds on the pan.
-Mix the egg yolk with 1 tbsp oil and brush the breads with this mixture. Be generous! Sprinkle black cumin seeds on top and bake them for 10-20 minutes. Start checking them for doneness after 10 minutes; they may be finished by 12-15 minutes. When the tops become brownish take them out of the oven and let them cool.

Continued Adventures in Quilting: Laptop Case

Quilted Laptop CaseBlast the trumpets: I finally finished this quilted laptop case! And I love it! Quilting this little case was one of my June goals, but I say better late than never. We travel a fair bit, and I was filled with zeal to create something not only beautiful, but useful.

Quilted Laptop CaseThis is the third installment in my quilting adventures (I started with cards and coasters), and I am so happy with how comfortable I’m getting with it. Sewing in a straight line has never been my forte, but I am slowly beginning to develop the ability to watch my seam lines. Huzzah!

Quilted Laptop CaseI also had the hardest time picking out fabric for this project. I wandered and wandered and wandered some more through the fabric store, and I finally alighted upon these jewel tones with metallic dots. Bright and shiny. Just how I like it.

Quilted Laptop CaseI wouldn’t presume to give a tutorial here because I’m still such a beginner, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Denyse Schmidt’s fabulous book to you. It has been my quilting bible and the inspiration for all of my projects thus far. I can give you a little walk-through, though. The quilt starts with cutting and piecing. Slowly but surely, the strips come together. The back and front of the laptop case are identical.

Quilted Laptop CaseNext, the quilt sandwich is made: quilt top, batting, backing (or, in this case, inner lining). I chose this bright yellow striped fabric for a little play on texture. Finally, I sewed the two sandwiches together to form a case. Almost done!

Quilted Laptop CaseFinally, I carefully stitched the top edging closed and painstakingly stitched the velcro on. That last part was honestly the slowest! I realize it looks a little Bride of Chucky, but I don’t mind one bit. Yellow thread would have been more invisible, but I like the homemade touch.

Quilted Laptop CaseAnd that’s it! Finishing this project has been a huge confidence booster for me. It has tiny little mistakes here and there, but mostly it looks totally legit! It’s a little wide on the side, but that leaves room for my little travel charger. A bonus.

Quilted Laptop CaseIn any case, this is a huge improvement over what I have been using as a laptop case for the past handful of years: an old heating pad cover! The funny thing is that the tutorial in my quilting book is for…a heating pad cover. But I used it to make a laptop case. I believe I have now officially come full circle.

Quilted Laptop CaseAnd now, a little speculation about my next project. I think I am ready to move on to a full-blown quilt. Dare I try to make one for our bed? Reader, I am already envisioning it. I have been thinking about color schemes and patterns for the past few days, but I love these three fabrics so much that I’m totally tempted to just use them again. I will see if anything else speaks to me at the fabric store…but these are solid contenders, for sure. Feel free to weigh in in the comments! And thank you all so very much, you sweet people, for your kind comments about the new blog design and about all my crazy projects. Thank you for being here and for putting a smile on my face every single day. I think the words that say it best are probably echoing around a lot of sweet southern towns: I appreciate the heck out of you. I really do.

Griffith Observatory

Griffith ObservatoryBefore I dive into this post, I want to give a hearty round of applause to Eric, who masterminded and implemented this entire new blog design. The best part is not even that he did such a great job. The best part is how invested he is in my blog and in everything I do, how relentlessly encouraging he is. Also, I think it looks pretty fantastic. Thanks, genius husband! And on the topic of genius husbands…this weekend’s foray into LA was to an iconic scientific playground of the astronomical variety: Griffith Observatory. It’s an LA landmark, and not just for the gorgeous view. It was built in the early 30s as part of the WPA program, and they did not skimp on the gorgeous details.

Griffith ObservatoryHere’s a closer look. I love the stately Greek key design and the elegant window grates.

Griffith ObservatoryWe knew we wanted to see the building, but we didn’t have any other expectations. So we were blown away 1) by the fact that it was *free*, and 2) by the wide range of fabulous exhibits and the working solar telescope. If an astrophysicist gives it a thumbs up, you know it’s good. Here he is looking at the live color spectrum of the sun.

Griffith ObservatoryThis was the old planetarium projector. Pretty awesome.

Griffith ObservatoryYou can also climb up and view the telescopes. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rebel Without a Cause, huge chunks of which were filmed here.

Griffith ObservatoryAnd now it’s time to talk about the other reason why Griffith Observatory is so amazing: the view. It was absolutely stunning.

Griffith ObservatoryI love this picture, even though the sun is totally in my eyes.

Griffith ObservatoryThis is the view from the other side, also iconic. And the loooong line of parked cars all the way down the hill. It was a busy day for astronomy!

Griffith ObservatoryAfter we’d finished looking around, we spontaneously decided to head to our Los Feliz favorite, The Alcove, for dinner, since it wasn’t too far. My brother introduced us to this place, and it’s just about the loveliest outdoor dining you can imagine. We miraculously found a place to park, and then we stumbled upon this, which I loved. And he does. Oh, he does.

Griffith ObservatoryA little menu humor.

Griffith ObservatoryI had soup and salad, but I talked Eric into getting fries with his sandwich. The best of all possible worlds!

Griffith ObservatoryThe Alcove is a dessert wonderland. So many cakes! All of them gigantic! We always try to save room for dessert. And then we eat dessert even if we didn’t save room. Or maybe that’s just me. This was Eric’s cake. Light and refreshing!

Griffith ObservatoryAnd here I am with my gargantuan slice of apple pie. After this, a brisk walk through the neighborhood and a browse through the bookstore was obligatory. All in all, a lovely Saturday. The loveliest.

Cookies and Cream

Cookies and CreamSometimes in life you get lucky. Eric and I were driving home from a neighboring town the other night, and I had expressed a distinct craving for ice cream. We were weighing our options when we drove right past this adorable store front. “Heeeey!” I said, “There’s a new ice cream place!” Eric parked the car, and we marched right in. It has only been open two weeks, so we can feel all smug and hipster-ish for finding it first. Ha! Do you see those beauties up there? You get to choose two cookies and your ice cream flavor. Mine are red velvet and lemon bar, and Eric’s are Jakarta and Vermont (the cookies all have adorable names too). That’s pistachio ice cream in the middle. Yum! Now, how much would you think all that deliciousness would cost you? I was prepared to pay something like $12 or so (this is California, after all), but it was $5. For both of them. $5! Cookies and Cream is my new favorite place.

Cookies and CreamThis is the sign that drew me in. I still cannot believe their crazy prices!

Cookies and CreamAll of the cookies are freshly baked, and they have little samples so you can try them all. I was totally impressed by their chipotle and green tea cookies.

Cookies and CreamThese are the ice cream flavors. Five stars to anyone who has pistachio, for it is the greatest ice cream known to mankind.

Cookies and CreamI saved the best part for last. Cookies and Cream is on Fair Oaks in South Pasadena, which used to be Route 66. The buildings are old and charming, and they have these little ledges above the doors. Cookies and Cream turned theirs into a teddy bear shelter! I think maybe I want to live here too. Cookies and ice cream, all the time. (Also! Thank you so much for your excitement/support of the new blog design. Eric is going to slay all the technological dragons over the weekend, so we should have it up early next week!)

Seven Layer Salad

Seven Layer SaladSeven layer dip is a party perennial, and for good reason. But this summer I started wondering if I could make a seven layer…salad. And so I did!

Seven Layer SaladI just used what I happened to have in the fridge. And it was delicious. Salad is so marvelously open to permutations. I knew I wanted to use kale as the base and add kidney beans for protein. Ingredients one and two.

Seven Layer SaladI grilled some corn and yellow squash. Ingredients three and four.

Seven Layer SaladI wanted some crunch (of course!), so I sliced several carrots paper thin with our mandoline. Ingredient five.

Seven Layer SaladAnd all the while, I had red onion marinating in the world’s most delicious champagne vinaigrette. Ingredient six.

Seven Layer SaladOnce I mixed everything up, I topped it with a good sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. Ingredient seven.

Seven Layer SaladThis salad was so, so good: crisp and crunchy and hearty and tangy. I loved every little thing about it, and I hope you do too.

Seven Layer Salad

1 head of kale, chopped
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or about 1 cup dried beans, cooked)
3 yellow squash, grilled
1 ear of corn, grilled
3 carrots, sliced thin
1 red onion, chopped
A generous handful of pumpkin seeds for topping

Champagne Vinaigrette, from Smitten Kitchen

2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

-Mix the dressing and let the onion marinate in it while you prepare the rest of the vegetables. Toss all ingredients together and enjoy!

Adventures in Natural Dyeing: Turmeric Dress

Turmeric DressI am a fan of dyeing things, as has probably become evident, but my experience has been limited to RIT dyes, which are great, by the way. But I have been wanting to try dyeing something with turmeric ever since I saw my friend Hena do it so beautifully. I am still not a pro at getting things to take dye evenly, but I am so happy with how this dress came out.

Turmeric DressFor a little trip down memory lane, this is what the dress originally looked like. It was a thrift store find, and I loved wearing it on days when the weather veered north of 75 in Berkeley. I miss this apartment. I do not miss the days before I knew that you should generally keep your head straight in pictures. I wish there were an “edit awkward pose” option in Picasa. Get on it, Google!

Turmeric DressThe process is really simple. Make sure you get the entire garment evenly wet before dyeing. Otherwise it will take the dye in big splotches. From there, it’s basically just boiling turmeric in water with a bit of vinegar, and giving it some good stirring action. Hena will tell you exactly how to do it in her tutorial.

Turmeric DressAfter I dyed my dress, I let it air dry and then washed it by hand. After it dried again, it was ready to wear. Except that I had decided that the halter ties were kind of annoying. They really pulled hard on my neck, so I decided to bring the ties down in an X and stitch them down. I used green thread and went over them several times. Now the dress feels much more secure and comfortable.

Turmeric DressSince we get plenty of days north of 75 here, this dress is getting some good wear.

Turmeric DressAs you can see from this photo, different types of fabric take dye differently. Usually cottons get very bright, while synthetics remain pale. I was really surprised to find the opposite here–the acetate lining turned completely neon. Awesome.

Turmeric DressDyeing things creates its own momentum for me–once I’ve done one thing, everything looks like fair game! Given how well turmeric dyes my countertops when I spill it, I am sure it is more than up to the challenge of refreshing a few more garments.

A Handful of Happy Things

New JournalThere are so many things that I want to write about, blog posts I have planned, and projects I am in the middle of, but I don’t want the little things that shape my days to slip through the cracks. I will be really excited when I can show you my finished laptop case (soooo close to being done!) and when we can unveil the new blog design later this week (yesss!), but I want to share the little things that make me smile along the way too. This is a new journal I made last week. Well, “made” may be a strong word. I buy little three-subject notebooks and then affix pretty pictures to the covers of them with packing tape. It’s always been a happy ritual to switch from one journal to the next one, and I love taking my time choosing the picture for the cover. These cowboy boots were the clear winner.

BorschtLast week my book club finished The Brothers Karamazov, and we had a Slavic feast. I had never had borscht with applewood smoked bacon and pickled beets before, but now that’s the only kind I want. YUM.

The SpreadThis was the rest of the spread at our lovely host’s home, minus the fresh peach pie and gingerbread. It was a delicious evening, and I am so glad I met these wonderful people. We are taking a break for the summer, but we will resume in October with another long and lugubrious novel. I can’t wait!

Happiest DinnerLast week Eric and I had dinner with Hillary and the girls, and we had such a beautiful time. There were dollhouses and chickens and maracas and miniature accordions! Need I say more? Dinner was pretty amazing too. Love love love every chance we get to hang out with them.

PeppersEric made harissa on Saturday, and now we have a whole jar full of spicy goodness. He laughed when he saw this picture and said that now his recipe has been immortalized for all eternity. Good thing, too.

Ocean's ElevenSaturday night we went to see an outdoor movie downtown: the original Ocean’s Eleven. We really enjoyed it, even if we still don’t know what “E-O Eleven” means, and now I am fixated on the idea of watching more Rat Pack movies.

JRAs we were sitting there under the stars, I decided it would be a great idea to get us a milkshake from the Johnny Rocket’s on the square. This was a very good idea indeed. Going in there was crazy nostalgic for me, since the one in Memphis used to be our high school hangout. My brother worked there for years, and I still remember him in his jaunty 50s hat.

CalendarAnd, finally, just to keep me honest, here’s my blog calendar for July. It’s getting kind of crowded down there at the bottom. And that makes me so, so happy.

The Rath al Fresco

The Rath al FrescoThe very first thing I was smitten with when we moved to Pasadena was that you can eat dinner outside without a coat on. I couldn’t love the Bay area any more than I do, but dining al fresco there usually felt vaguely similar to being inside a refrigerator.  A very beautiful refrigerator, but a refrigerator nonetheless. For the first few months after we moved here, I am sure we were obvious Bay area transplants because we never went anywhere without a hoodie. Eventually we learned that most summer days lead to warm nights, which makes me happy because it reminds me of Memphis. All this is to say, summer nights are pretty blissful here, and the Athenaeum makes them even more lovely. On Thursday and Friday nights they serve a casual dinner outside on the lawn. It’s called the Rath al Fresco (short for the beloved Rathskellar, where dinner is served in the winters), and it’s so awesome that I actually made hitting it up a monthly goal for July. We were out of groceries by Thursday, so it wasn’t hard to convince Eric that this was the thing to do on Friday night.

The Rath al FrescoThey have a really fun menu with new stuff every summer (come to me, potato pea samosas), but when it’s crowded, your best bet is the bbq buffet.

The Rath al FrescoIt’s so much food, and it is so deliriously good. This plate reminds me of the bbq party we had at my parents’ house a few nights before our wedding: good times!

The Rath al FrescoI can’t even tell you how good it smelled.

The Rath al FrescoMy companion was even hungrier than I was, or perhaps I just opted to save more room for the ice cream sundae.

The Rath al FrescoIce cream sundaes…

The Rath al Frescomake me a happy girl. A blurry, happy girl.

The Rath al FrescoOne of my favorite things about the Rath al Fresco is that they hang three pretty lanterns from this stately tree. Can you see them on the right side? We sat almost underneath them this time, and I loved it. I feel like I have had a series of epiphanies this year (an epiphaseries?) about seizing all the treasures of the place where I live, about making it my home, about taking every opportunity to explore and celebrate the things that make the place I live so distinctive. It has been so much fun adding each little sparkling bead to the chain of reasons why it’s pretty great here. This is most definitely one of them. One that catches the light and echoes it back to you.

We Are Going To…

Santorini by Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons and Share Alike LicenseGreece! Eric was just asked this past weekend to attend an upcoming conference on the island of Santorini (!!!), so, naturally, I invited myself along. Santorini has been on my dream travel list for such a long time, and I honestly didn’t expect to see it before, say, retirement, if ever. I am so happy that my word for this year, open, is getting such a good workout; when Eric told me about this opportunity, I just couldn’t say no! We have spent the last few days sifting through flight options and choosing where best to have a long layover, but we’ve just about got it all squared away now. Hurray! We’ll be going in September, after the tourist season ends and before the weather gets too cold. Trip planning is one of my favorite things ever, so I think these will be a fun few months. I love reading up on the places I’m going to visit, but also reading the literature, learning about the cuisine, and picking up at least a little bit of the language. I always feel that anytime you travel, you really see a place three times: first, when you’re planning your trip, second, when you are there, and third, when you look through all your photos and remember the beautiful time you had. So I’ll be doing some armchair traveling and looking forward to looking out at incredible views, exploring the island, and enjoying what are rumored to be some of the best tomatoes in the world (to say nothing of the olives!). We’ll be in Santorini for a week, and then we have a few days to explore in Athens before heading home. If any of you have been or have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Last but not least: Huge thanks to Pedro Szekely for sharing this gorgeous photograph!

Istanbul Scrapbook, Day 2

Istanbul ScrapbookWelcome to the severely jet-lagged portion of our trip, during which we still managed to do some exploring and discover some fun things.

Istanbul ScrapbookThere’s nothing like waking up to the sunrise, but waking up just before it and hearing the call to prayer is pretty special. Thankfully, we had bought some basic breakfast foods the night before, since I am sure no one would have sold us a simit at 5:30am.

Istanbul ScrapbookGalata was an amazing area to explore, even if we ended up wandering down a lot of streets under construction. How cars wind through the hills on those tiny narrow streets was and is a mystery to me!

Istanbul ScrapbookThe Koska underlay is actually from the bag we got at the baklava store, and I’m bummed that I couldn’t get it to lay perfectly flat. It resisted all glues! But I am still glad that I have it there because it reminds me of our first stroll down İstiklâl Caddesi.

Istanbul ScrapbookHere are a few of our favorite neighborhood finds, plus another shot of that irresistible sunrise.

Istanbul ScrapbookMy friend Hillary just gave me a huge bag of paper, and I have been using it very liberally. Love these colors.

Istanbul ScrapbookRooftop gardens, with the Golden Horn in the distance. Glorious.

Istanbul ScrapbookBeautiful metro sign, though this ivy doesn’t hold a candle to the Rapunzel vines we saw swinging through Cihangir.

Istanbul ScrapbookAnd one more of this crazy beautiful sunrise. Jet lag is sort of a special case, but despite knowing that I will be wrecked by the early afternoon, I love catching the first hours of the day. The day before you is so long and so wide, and you can watch everyone and everything wake up and stretch their limbs and go into motion. It’s the very best consolation prize jet lag can offer.

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