• The stairwell refuge

    January 12th, 2013

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    In most business buildings, and many apartment blocks there’s an essential Turkish institution. Past the postboxes, across the scuffed, cracked tile floor, an illumined window, fogged with steam, behind which moves a shadowy indistinct figure. What’s brewing inside the uninitiated, non Turk might wonder? A magician in his lair? Almost. From that room, usually not much more than a metre or two square, a man or youth will emerge bearing a shiny silvery tray on which he carries an absolute Turkish necessity — piping hot, black tea accompanied by a tiny spoon and two little bricks of sugar. Outside pushed against the narrow corridor wall, a stool or two, maybe a chair with its vinyl cushion torn, exposing some yellow foam cushioning, and a table with an ashtray and stubbed out butt. This time of year, this is the cheapest refuge from Istanbul’s rain-spattered streets, where for less than 50 cents you can buy yourself a quick infusion of warmth and escape the bone-clinging chill that the wet season brings. The hallway tea room. A Turkish institution that earns its rent in 75 kuruş increments.

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  • Spilling into the street: café culture in Istanbul

    October 23rd, 2012

    I recently composed a half page piece for the Globe & Mail, one of Canada’s national broadsheets regarding Istanbul’s café culture, and my pick for the best coffee joint in the city. It was nice to see they used my photography as well. I must say I had a great time researching the piece, as drinking coffee and people-watching seems to be one of favorite pastimes. They didn’t edit or alter much of what I submitted. I had hoped to include a link to their website, but the piece has only appeared in print. To read the full text please follow the link below the article picture.

    Read More…

  • Summer Elixir

    July 2nd, 2012

    For some of us, summer isn’t always the holiday we want. Or sometimes it’s too much of what we want—sun, drink, late nights. That’s why when I’m feeling like I’ve overdosed on any or all of these things, I resort to my favorite seasonal elixir, which helps me detoxify physically and mentally. The key ingredient here is fresh turmeric root, something which is not always easy to find in Istanbul. I’ve tried with the powder, but don’t seem to enjoy the same feeling afterwards. Fortunately, as I was watching cool little video the other day, shot by I noticed that the natural food and organic supplier in Besiktas, Kirkambar, had some on the counter. Read More…

  • Carving out hearts

    June 13th, 2012

    On street corners all across Turkey there are men like the one pictured above, brandishing razor sharp filleting knives, mercilessly carving out hearts and plunking them in a sloshing bucket at their feet. And do the authorities intervene? Absolutely not—because the innocent victims deserve it. They’re far too tasty, and far too healthy to go on living. Yes, that’s right, it’s artichoke season again.

    The artichoke is, in fact, a perennial form of thistle native to the southern Mediterranean and has been cultivated since ancient Greek times and was called Kaktos. They are packed with antioxidants and are especially potent in enhancing liver and gall bladder function—although perhaps not so much when turned into the Italian liqueur Cynar, produced by the Campari group. There are also artichoke teas which contain many of the beneficial effects of the vegetable. Personally, I prefer to eat them as an olive oil dish with a squeeze of lemon.

  • Cold tea time

    May 25th, 2012

    It’s not always easy to get a beer in this city. Sometimes, it has to be done on the sly. Recently I was in a nice little eatery a bit too close to a mosque to have an alcohol license, which used the code name soğuk çay (cold tea) for beer. There are times when I enjoy these little rituals and games and  then there are times when I just want a beer without any secret handshakes or fuss.

    Yes, there are days when it seems that there are a few too many fences between me and the swinging Sultan style of life I believe I desire. Some days I’m half tempted to just knock at the gate of someones’s yalı and find out what’s going on for those fortunate enough to live within toe-dipping distance of the Bosporus. Fortunately there are a few places where you can almost pretend you’re an Ottoman aristocrat, if not a full fledged Sultan. One of those is Gazebo in Yeniköy. I’d never visited the place before as I was a bit put off by its name, a word which I associated with small town squares not majestic Bosporus shores. Still I was not disappointed by what I found. There’s a good view,and liberal splashings of sea and sun, and the soğuk çay was properly cold if not exactly cheap. Not sure if I felt like a Sultan or even an aristocrat, but at least I didn’t need a code word to be on the right side of the fence.

    GAZEBO CAFE  Köybaşı Cad. No:175 Sarıyer – Yeniköy, İstanbul – Avrupa (0212) 299 8487

  • Adaçayi: a sage choice of drink.

    February 20th, 2012

    COULD THIS TEA SHARPEN OUR SENSES? DIMINISH THE AGING PROCESS? MAYBE.

    A few years ago,  I started visiting Yeniköy, and in particular, Yeniköy Kahvesi, a tea garden/coffeehouse set above the village’s main boulevard, nestled beside one of the community’s Greek churches. Overhung with vines and interlacing tree branches this quiet spot is a popular weekend brunch option year-round with its mix of sun and shade, indoor fireplace and relaxed attitude.

    One day when a group of us gathered there in early spring with our books and Sudoku puzzles, my friend Despina ordered an adaçayi (sage tea). I’d like to think that my life has changed for the better since that day.

    THE LANE BEHIND YENIKÖY KAHVESI.

    Made simply by infusing hot water with sage leaves, this herb turns the water a vibrant fluorescent yellow-green. It’s a refreshing hot drink usually enjoyed with a slice or two of lemon.

    From that day on I decided that this was more than just an ordinary drink. It also makes a nice change from the caffeine jitters from drinking  black tea or coffee all day long. But does adaçayi also heighten neurological function? Quite possibly.

    FEELING A BIT BLURRY? LOOK FOR THE MEMORY ELIXIR HERE.

    According to the World’s Healthiest Foods (my favorite online resource for nutritional advice, which backs up all its assertions with medical findings):

    “Research published in the June 2003 issue ofPharmacological Biochemical Behavior confirms what herbalists have long known: sage is an outstanding memory enhancer. In this placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study, two trials were conducted using a total of 45 young adult volunteers. Participants were given either placebo or a standardized essential oil extract of sage in doses ranging from 50 to 150 microls. Cognitive tests were then conducted 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 hours afterwards. In both trials, even the 50 microl dose of sage significantly improved subjects’ immediate recall.” But wait, there’s more … it’s also a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant: “The leaves and stems of the sage plant also contain antioxidant enzymes, including SOD (superoxide dismutase) and peroxidase. When combined, these three components of sage—flavonoids, phenolic acids, and oxygen-handling enzymes—give it a unique capacity for stabilizing oxygen-related metabolism and preventing oxygen-based damage to the cells.”

    COULD WE ACHIEVE CAT-LIKE PERCEPTION …  I LIKE TO THINK SO.

    Since we need to drink water plenty of water daily, why not enhance the hydration process using a herb that civilizations as far back as the Greeks and the Romans have prized for its medicinal properties? 

    Perhaps it’s the placebo effect working in me — mind over matter — as I’ll be the first to admit that I like the idea of natural memory enhancers and anti-inflammatories. The prospect of cognitive decline and diminished mental capacity with age is not an appealing thought. Whatever the case I always feel a little “different” after drinking the decoction.

    THE CHURCH BESIDE YENIKÖY KAHVESI.

    Colors seem richer, the grain of surfaces seem sharper, the contrast between light and shadow deeper, and, overall I feel more alert. Usually around mid-afternoon, I find myself losing some of my edge, wanting to go into siesta mode.

    This afternoon though, I felt like something was different, even with the photos I took after drinking my adaçayi and exploring the old Greek lanes behind the tea garden.

    LINES SEEM MORE CLEARLY DRAWN. COLORS ARE ENRICHED, DEEPENED.

    Whatever the truth, a sage tea or two this spring at Yeniköy Kahvesi, sitting under the vine leaves, soft sea air wafting up off the Bosporus could hardly be harmful, could it?

    YENIKÖY KAHVESI. DRINK A FRESH ADAÇAYI HERE.

    Tell me, have you ever tried sage tea? What do you think? Can you recommend any natural memory-enhancers? I’d love to know.

  • The Elixir of Life?

    January 17th, 2012

    THE ELIXIR OF LIFE GRANTS IMMORTALITY TO ANYONE WHO DRINKS IT.

    The ultimate quest or Opus Magnum of the alchemist is the Lapis Philosophorum, more commonly known as the Philosopher’s Stone. With it she could transmute base metals into noble gold and even more importantly, mortality into immortality. Its recipe is the greatest secret of the Royal Art. Far more often than not, however, its pursuit shortened, rather than lengthened, the seeker’s life.

    In fact, poisonings, explosions and other misadventures were commonplace. But as long as man and woman have lived—and more importantly—died, the potential gains outweighed the dangers of failure. As far back as Gilgamesh we have accounts of people seeking to unlimit their existence. Frankly, who wouldn’t care for a taste of unlimited youth?

    THE  CHEMICAL WEDDING OF PHILOSOPHICAL SULFUR & MERCURY.

    Two notable figures—or legends, if you prefer—reputed to have achieved the Opus Magnum were Nicolas Flamel (September 28, 1330-1418) and later, the Compte de St. Germain (1712 to ?) an extremely shadowy man, who may be a composite of many agents or a singular man of great note, depending on whom you believe. It is interesting that the most famous of seducers, Giacomo Casanova, wrote an account of him, which sums him up as something of a charlatan, but one for whom he nevertheless possessed no small degree of awe. Some claim that he still walks the earth today. Read More…

  • Vapur II: blue sea, black tea.

    January 4th, 2012

    WILL SHE BE ABOARD? SHE HAS TO BE.

    On every voyage, no matter how small, you need a traveling companion to keep you warm. I fell in love with mine on my first vapur crossing in Istanbul. Her name is Camellia, Camellia Sinensis. You may also know her as tea. Don’t get me wrong, a piping hot cup of coffee is a beautiful experience, but when I board a vapur, she pales by comparison. I’ll drop my cup of coffee in a second.

    CROSSING THE THRESHOLD … WILL SHE BE THE SAME?

    I read recently that tea only became the drink of choice in the twilight hours of the Ottoman Empire, and that, not surprisingly, Turkish Coffee was favored until the Yemeni province of the Empire got uppity, or simply out of reach because of World War I … but don’t quote me on this because I can’t recall the source. Read More…