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My eating and drinking life in 2D




Oh bakalava, I hardly knew ye
until I went to Istanbul.
You were cheap honeyed pastry, made of dried flakes and common ground nuts at Sultan’s Market
Until I saw your richly green cousins in the windows of Divan Yolu.

Pistachio! Hazelnut! Chocolate! Random Nut!
All the flavors I could not imagine, sitting in tiny perfect boxes.

I dig my plastic fork, 1 lira at a time, into your delicious belly
Soaked in bee’s knees nectar and sticky with flavors.

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Get Your Streetwise: Part I

In the first few days, I was way too involved with looking and snapping photos to consider restaurant eating an viable option. Instead, I was gripped with the traveler’s compulsion to see MORE MORE MORE and sitting in one place for more than half an hour wasn’t going to accomplish that goal. My stomach growled and Istanbul replied with an army of food carts on the corner of every mosque, which for a city that has a mosque a minute, is quite a few. The ubquitious grilled corn and seasame encrusted bread rings didn’t entice me since I’d been spoiled by the Mexican corn at Maxwell street slathered in butter and spices. The Turkish corn just looked so forlorn and barren compared to the calorie nightmare I usually enjoy.

I followed the tram tracks out of Sultanahmet and, either by sheer force of will or by the gravity of a downward decline, the Bosphorous pulled me towards the Galata bridge, an activity that was high on the “To Do In Istanbul” list. All the reading I had done about the fish markets near Galata bridge mentioned the fish sandwiches. What they didn’t mention was the high pressure salesmanship that made buying a sandwich like wandering through a used-car lot with hundred dollar bills sticking out my pockets.

I guess the difference between the locals and the visitors is that the tourists fall prey to the highly aggressive waiters while the locals fish for their own damn fish sandwiches. While the balik ekmek was satisfying, it was almost too simple in its combination of bread, greens, onions and grilled fish. I kept craving some sort of creamy or lemony counterpart.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my balik ekmek and imagined that not only twelve hours earlier, that fish was probably enjoying a nice swim in the Sea of Marmara. While the Galata bridge isn’t the prettiest bridge in the world, it does house an entire strip of restaurants in its belly, which makes for an interesting, if stressful walk.

My second sandwich was in the Beyoglu district right off İstiklal Caddesi, in the most elegant ”fish market” I’ve ever seen, the Balık Pazarı. Maybe many years ago, Balık Pazarı was a smelly, noisy fish market, but what I encountered were table-clothed restaurants, elegant indoor malls and another tasty sandwich encounter: the fried mussel sandwich.

Instead of loading up on bread, this 2.5 YTL sandwich had nicely seasoned, freshly fried mussels with the perfect cream sauce. Standing next to us, there was a woman steadily making a formidable pile of mussel shells. The stuffed mussels were selling for 0.50 YTL and with her large Russian looking boyfriend paying, girlfriend was making a killing in shells.

When I hit the Egyptian Market, or the Spice Market in Eminönü, I discovered Turkish pizza, or pide.

While you could get pide with cheese, I love the version I kept ordering over and over again—a mixture of crumbled lamb, tomatoes, and herbs. I didn’t think I could find New Haven style pizza in the middle of Istanbul, but this tasted alarmingly similar to my best experiences at Piece.

Walking around the bazaar afterward, I kept noticing the flippy tricks the dondurma (ice cream) man was doing with his spatula. Turkish ice cream is made with goat’s milk, thickened with salep and stuck firmly to just about anything. After being easily upsold to five scoops of dondurma, I decided that chewy ice cream wasn’t really my thing. While the chewiness of the ice cream was novel, salep gave had a weird after taste and didn’t win any flavor points with me.

I did manage to eat full restaurant meals in Istanbul, but it wasn’t until Joanne, Susie, and Crystal arrived that I finally abandoned my itinerant eating, more on that later.

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Bir bardak çay lutfen

Or “One cup of tea, please” served admirably well almost everywhere we went in Istanbul since the tea culture in Turkey is embeded in the core almost every transaction. We were offered çay at every turn: on a boat, in a rug store, in a scarf shop, on the street, by random restauranteurs whose sheep’s head offerings weren’t doing any favors to squeamish tourists. I saw young and old men running up the uneven streets of Sultanahmet, carrying trays of teas swinging from hangers that uses centrifugal force to keep the liquid intact. Since I spent my first day in Istanbul wandering the streets with my neck craned at every mosque, it was pure luck dropped me in front of the Aile Cafe, a grape leaf covered tea garden in Çemberlitaş, off the main drag of Divan Yolu. Like any eager neophyte, I used the one bit of Turkish phrase I mastered to the great pleasure of the tea shop owner. I proceeded to drag my friends, one by one, as they arrived in Sultanahmet to the Aile Cafe, to sit under its green shade, to smoke its nargile, and sip its powerful tea that left the tongue dry like a strong red wine. Since the area was heavy with tourists, we also eavesdropped on an American woman who kept dropping Miranda July’s name, hoping to impress, but her companions, a British artist and a South African male model type, looked underwhelmed. Experimental video artists, maybe not the best candidate for the ”I roll with Somebody Famous” line.

Here, the owner of Aile Cafe is squeezing fresh orange juice, which for a full cup takes approximately four oranges. After my fourth visit to Aile Cafe, he attempted to do some match making over the nargile pipe and pointed to the three other American travelers that were lounging on the other side of the garden, staring a little too intently at us. We politely declined the offer by never looking in their general direction again and skipped out happily, romance-free.

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Istanbul is not Constanti-schnitzel?

"The kebabs, you’ve got the try the kebabs," every guidebook intoned religiously if going to Istanbul without eating skewered meat would be like missing the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia). Well, three of the friends who came with me to Istanbul DID miss Aya Sofya, but their alert tongues also caught a relatively obscure culinary fact, that wiener schnitzel was plentiful and delicious in Istanbul. In this land of figs and lamb, how is it that fried meat cutlets fit in with the local cuisine?. Manuela Honsig-Erlenburg of Austria helpfully supplies that:

While many of the classic Viennese dishes stem ‘at least’ from former Austrian territories, i.e. Hungary, the traditional ‘Wiener Schnitzel’ has its roots not in Italy – that would be just about bearable – but Istanbul of all places…The more prosperous residents of what used to be Constantinople garnished their food with gold leaf. Those who couldn’t afford this luxury used golden bread crumbs instead. This was the birth of the crumb-coated escalope; right in the middle of today’s Istanbul.”

Maybe because my sense of humor is stuck at the Freudian anal stage, but reports of the wealthy eating gold makes me wonder about their poo and their ability to distinguish flavor from excess. The plebes clearly won the culinary war on the schnitzel. One can discern from the photo, that the artfully stacked schnitzel is from the kind of urban trendy restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in Greenwich Village. If anyone wants that feel of modern Istanbul, visit The House Cafe. There will be more substantive Turkey postings to follow.

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Ezra Klein: Food + Politics

I don’t know if any readers would think that a political blog is a great resource for ideas, but Ezra Klein of the American Prospect is just that: a witty policy wonk with a huge appetite for good eating. It might also help that his profile picture looks like Rachel Maddow’s cute younger brother. His latest post inspired me to share his love of fooding and politicking with everyone else because how can you not love someone who uses 3 pounds of chocolate and 15 eggs for ONE dessert?

Ezra Klein

*Edit - It looks like Ben Miller was the real chef in this particular recipe. But I promise a purusal of Ezra Klein’s blog will reveal more food made by the man himself.

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Green Giant

Hasbro must have had future foodies in mind when they churned out the McDonald’s Fries Play-Doh maker because my current obsession with my pasta maker feels like the same school yard bit: put formless dough in, get tubular food item out! Now that I’ve conquered fettuccine, I decided to move onto ravioli and this recipe in, ravioli di ricotta e asparagi con salsa di piselli, in spite of its excessive vowels won me over with its green on green flavors.

Ravioli, asparagus

Ahh, the road to ravioli is paved with good intentions. It is inadvisable to let your raviolis rest on smooth metallic surfaces! They will stick and be as gnarly to remove as picketing Congress hotel workers.

After making the usual pasta dough, I blanched 1 lb of asparagus until almost tender and mixed it with 3/4 cup of ricotta and 2 tsp of fresh mint. Yes. MINT. Adventure, embrace it.


I am cheating quite a bit here since most of my raviolis stuck mercilessly to the baking sheet before they even had a fighting chance to boil. I salvaged two lucky ones and snapped the photo before everything fell apart. The green sauce is the “salsa di piselli" part of the recipe—1 cup of snap peas and 2 stalks of green onions blanched in 1 cup of salt water and pureed. The texture definitely needs adjusting, still a little too watery for my taste.


I had all the same ingredients left over, so I figured, why not another pasta dish?

For lunch today, I made fresh fettuccine and approached the pea puree with a little more flair—in the form of heavy whipping cream. The asparagus were simply blanched and added a great crunch to my lunch. I’ve been accused of being a “pepper monkey” but in this case, the extra spice is just what was needed.

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The Violent Hour

Waking up this morning with unexplained bruises meant that last night’s effort at stay-at-home cocktailing went a little TOO successfully. I haven’t really written about the drinking aspect of my life, but it is safe to say that I would spend my last $11 dollars on drinks at the Violet Hour. If you are in Chicago, get thee to the unmarked door at 1520 N. Damen quickly. If you’re not in Chicago, then there are alternatives aplenty in New York, but what to do for the people unwilling to drop $11 per drink in these tough economic times?

I present to you DIY Violet Hour. My eating partner had a former life as a bartender so this means that we had a little bit of advantage going into this experiment—however, I think a proper stab at Violet Hour drinks can be made by anyone. We tried three gin based drinks: The Riveria, Fox Hunt, and Briar Patch.

Fox Hunt

From the Violet Hour menu, the Fox Hunt is Tanqueray, Pimms, Lemon and Cynar. We prepared in these porportions for two drinks:
3 oz gin
2 oz Pimms
Juice of 1 lemon
Splash of Cynar

Reviews: Despite the pretty picture, this drink was bitter enough to drive a loner away from the prospect of true love. I think that the formula must need more tweaking because the bitterness of Cynar totally overwhelmed any other flavors.

The Briar Patch

From the Violet Hour menu, the Briar Patch is Plymouth, Lemon and Blackberry Syrup. Lucky for us, Stanley’s had a sale on ripe blackberries, which we boiled with water and sugar to make the syrup.

We made the drinks in these proportions for two drinks:
3 oz of Bombay gin
Juice of one lemon
4 tbs of Blackberry Syrup

Review: The tartness of blackberry syrup was delicious with the cool gin. I would drink this again (and boy did I).

The Riveria
From the Violet Hour menu, the Riveria is Pineapple infused Beefeater, Lemon, Egg White, Campari.

We made some emergency pineapple infused gin by dropping pineapple chunks into the gin.

Pretty lemon picture.

For the Riveria, which was this gorgeous color between the ruby Campari and the pale pineapple juice color, we used these proportions for two drinks:
3 oz Bombay gin
1.5 oz Campari
Juice of half lemon
1 egg white
Splash of pineapple juice

Review: Not only was this drink delicious, it was gorgeous to look at.

Cost Savings - We each had about 5 cocktails that night, which would have cost us 10 X $11 = $110, thus $132 including tip.

Our total liquor costs were:
Gin $20, Campri $20, Cynar $18, Pimms $18, Juices $4, Blackberries $2 for a grand total of $82.

Yes! $40 dollars savings! And not to mention we have enough of every ingrediants to make twice as many drinks as consumed. Now if I could only get the lighting in my apartment right…

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MFK Fisher is 100 today. I can’t believe I almost missed her birthday, but she is the single most influential foodie in my life, excluding my mother. Her writing is historic, thoughtful, and wholly sensory—with descriptions like the painful curling of truite au bleu flash cooked in broth or her languorous pea shelling ritual that makes eating a blessing rather than nutrition.  There’s been thousands of words penned by and about her, so get thee to a bookstore/library and read "The Art of Eating." The Chicago Tribune also did a nice little essay about her life here.

MFK Fisher is 100 today. I can’t believe I almost missed her birthday, but she is the single most influential foodie in my life, excluding my mother. Her writing is historic, thoughtful, and wholly sensory—with descriptions like the painful curling of truite au bleu flash cooked in broth or her languorous pea shelling ritual that makes eating a blessing rather than nutrition. There’s been thousands of words penned by and about her, so get thee to a bookstore/library and read "The Art of Eating." The Chicago Tribune also did a nice little essay about her life here.

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I certainly know what I’ll be doing this Sunday. I plan a trying a brain taco, despite all the hullabaloo about “mad cows disease” and then for a tearful reunion with the flor de calabaza empanada. These empanadas are filled with zucchini flowers, whose earthy flavors and silky texture I haven’t been able to forget. I’m so excited to eat it again! Expect a full report on Monday.

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