This time two years ago, Cory and I were in Turkey. I never got around to writing about the trip in depth here, and I can’t quite do that now. Faces are now blurred and names have been forgotten, but there are still some things fresh in my mind: endless baskets of bread, kaymak (similar to clotted cream, and devoured with copious amounts of honey and bread), the winding streets of Cihangir, showering every street cat ever with love, using locals as shields when crossing busy streets (sorry guys), and stopping at juice stands at least twice a day for fresh pomegranate juice.
One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to look through my mom’s photos, which she kept in a bag in the closet. I’d take it out every few months, dump the photos on the floor, and spend at least an hour looking at every one of them. I was endlessly fascinated by my parents’ lives before me a – my mom the babe, my dad’s facial hair, unfortunate perms, their early life together traveling across the country (they were carnies and left when I was about 2), faces of friends and relatives I never got to meet or didn’t remember.
I still do this with my own photos, but with hard drives and memory cards instead of a bag of photos tucked in the closet. I decided to not share the same ol’ photos of the Sultanahmet Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but to mix things up a bit with a series of photos of people holding/carrying things. Fascinating, right?!
Simit (bread rings with sesame seeds).
The tram on Istiklal street carrying a gaggle of boys.
Bread. And a man wearing a confederate flag t-shirt.
Ok, let’s mix things up a bit with some non-carrying things photos. Approaching Galata tower.
The derpy Hagia Sophia cat, who I later discovered has her own Tumblr.
Ephesus, once home to 250,000 people. Now home to just about as many cats.
I loved the Saturday market in Selcuk. I still have some paprika, chili pepper, and sumac left from our visit.
The first time I had karkady was in Cairo in 2006. Ramadan was in full swing and the October heat was relentless. My roommate and I were in a taxi on our way to al-Husayn Mosque, which we would visit a few times a week. She would go to the mosque to pray, then we’d hit up nearby Khan al-Khalili to shop for giant gaudy earrings and eat tameyya sandwiches. On the last stretch of the trip, the call to prayer rippled through the city. It was iftar — time to break the day’s fast. Drivers had a new sense of urgency, most pedestrians vanished from the street to fill their bellies, and our cab driver broke his fast with a cigarette.
As our taxi inched forward in bumper to bumper traffic, I noticed a man going from car to car and handing people bags with some sort of deep red liquid. When he got to our taxi, he handed me a bag and said something I didn’t understand. I had just enough time to thank him, but not enough to ask him what it was before he went on his merry way. I asked the cab driver if he knew what the drink was and he said, “karkady”. Well, OK! I didn’t know what that was but when a jovial toothless man hands you mystery drink in a plastic bag, what do you do? My roommate wasn’t interested, so I drank it in the most graceful way one can drink from a plastic bag (which is not at all).
As a fan of all things sour, it was love at first sip. Sweet but not overly so, with a tart flavor reminiscent of cranberry juice. After doing some investigating later on (aka googling), I learned karkady was made from made an infusion of hibiscus flowers. Serve it cold in the hot months and hot when fighting off those winter shivers. It wasn’t for another few years after leaving Egypt that I would revisit karkady, but now you’ll find a pitcher (or bottle) of it in my fridge about once a month.
To make karkady, you need dried red hibiscus flowers, which can be found at Middle Eastern and Latin American groceries (look for Flor de Jamaica), tea shops, and the bustling spice markets of Cairo. If none are available in your neck of the woods, there’s always Amazon, the Wal*Mart of the internet.
Unrelated, but here are some things I’ve been cooking lately:
Pulled Pork – I made about 5 pounds of pulled pork for Father’s Day. It had been so long since I cooked several pounds of pork that and I overcooked it a little bit, sadly. Dad came down for a visit and we feasted on pulled pork sandwiches and potato salad. I sent dad home with a big container of meat, then Cory and I used the remaining pork for sandwiches and tacos.
Black Bean, Cilantro and Apricot Salad – When we ran out of pulled pork, we still had several corn tortillas. I made a mango and black bean salad based off an apricot and black bean salad from the taste space. The recipe has been a regular in our kitchen for about 3 years now.
Quick Pickled Onions – from the Kitchn. I’ve quick pickled (and consumed) 4 jars of carrots in the last month and now I’m onto onions for salads and sandwiches.
Falafels – The last of my chickpeas are currently soaking as I type this. Falafels served over a bed of lettuce will be tomorrow’s dinner. Maybe I’ll buy more chickpeas before we move, but first I have to go through a pound of pinto beans, cranberry beans, and great northern beans. Anyone have any ideas what to do with those?
Tahini – ok, I haven’t made this yet. But I’m making it tomorrow! Again, from The Kitchn. I’ve never made tahini from scratch before, but I have a lot of sesame seeds I’ve been meaning to use up. I’m knee deep in Operation: Clear Out the Pantry.
Zucchini – zucchini everything. Chopped up raw and in salads, zucchini noodles, zucchini soups, and mastering mom’s zucchini bread.
Corn – with everything. Mostly corn on the cob, sometimes soup, and I made a corn, basil, and pesto pizza on Friday.
Popsicles – currently, mango lassi popsicles. But I’m really craving Vietnamese iced coffee and I think they’d make for some delicious popsicles.
Now, on with the show.
Karkady / Egyptian Hibiscus Drink
3/4 cup hibiscus petals
8 cups water
sugar, to taste (I recommend starting with 1/4 cup and taste testing from there)
dried orange peel
a few squeezes of lime or lemon
a cinnamon stick
In a large pot, add hibiscus petals and water (add orange peel, ginger, and/or cinnamon stick, if using) and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir in sugar and give the drink a taste test and add more sugar, if necessary. You can skip this part, but I usually cover the pot and let it steep for another 1-3 hours. If adding lime or lemon, squeeze a bit of juice in and stir. Strain the mixture into a pitcher, discard the petals, and refrigerate the drink for several hours.
I get cranky when I’m hungry. In an embarrassing “I’m a grown woman and I know I shouldn’t be acting like this” kind of way. I’m not proud of it and I try to prevent it. When friends invited us to Eastern Market in Detroit this weekend, I jumped on board and immediately shouted “YES, OF COURSE!” but I knew to pack a snack in case we had a late lunch (and we did! 3 PM, but it was soo worth it). I wanted to make a snack that was small, easy to transport, and that could be shared with my gluten intolerant friend.
Date balls! They’re a simple no fuss sort of snack. No freezing, no baking, no complicated instructions. Just blend, roll into balls, and eat. Since they’re made with just nuts and dates, it’s not like you’re spoiling you’re next meal, right?
With 4 date balls carefully stored away in my purse, off to Detroit we went!
Eastern Market is the largest historic public market in the country. Something I didn’t know before visiting, and once I got there I was completely overwhelmed. I anticipated doing all of our weekly produce shopping there, but I was so overwhelmed I ended up forgetting lots of staples. Oops. I also got distracted by all the beautiful dogs.
Look at that giant dog!
Lots of pretty flowers, too. But they’re not as good as dogs. Adopting a dog just isn’t something that’s going to happen for a very long time, so I tend to go a little overboard when I see any dog.
Today’s lunch, made with lots of fresh bounty from Eastern Market. Pasta with pesto, cucumbers, and bell peppers. Toast with mayonnaise and pesto, chopped up radishes, scallions, pickled carrots, and tossed in pesto. Sauteed dandelion greens.
Oh, right. Date balls! This is a very forgiving and customizable recipe.
Have an assortment of different types of nuts in the pantry? Just throw a hodgepodge of them in the food processor. You don’t need 2 cups of a certain type of nut, just use what you have. Don’t have 2 cups of nuts? Use as much as you have and replace the rest with oats. Don’t have ground cardamom? Try cinnamon. Feel free to experiment with coconut flakes, vanilla extract, or unsweetened cocoa. Don’t have dates? Well, go get some! They’re date balls, after all. Let the dates act as a base for any ingredient in your pantry that you think sounds good for date balls.
2 cups nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, whatever you have on hand. For this batch, I used 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup pistachios)
2 cups medjool dates, pitted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Add ingredients to food processor and blend for about a minute and test for stickiness. If the mixture sticks together when you pinch it, it’s ready. If not, blend for another 30 seconds. Take about 2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time, forming it into balls. Repeat until mixture is gone. Can be eaten right away or refrigerated.
I recently had a birthday. A 29th one, at that. It’s a little weird to think I am now the age I thought my mom was until I was 7 or 8, because you know, I believed every thing my mama told me (hi mom, love you). Cory and I celebrated the day of my birth with an overnight trip to Detroit, to spend hours and hours at the Detroit Institute of Arts and in typical Sponseller fashion, to stuff our faces with food. An overnight trip was much needed, since I’ve been feeling a bit burned out in the work department. Balancing my time and knowing when to say “no” to taking on additional projects is still something I’m clumsily fumbling my way through. There are certainly worse problems to have, but a brain break was much needed.
First stop in Deh-twa was Motor City Brewing Works. Here’s Cory’s sausage pizza and beer because it was way more handsome than my artichoke pizza and cherry soda:
Motor City Brewing Works is next to Nest and City Bird. I’m a sucker for cutesy home decor shops.
You know, staying the night at someone else’s place always gets me excited about decorating my own apartment. Our move is only less than 2 months away now! Eep. We don’t have a new apartment lined up yet, but I’m totally gonna steal some ideas from this cute little studio. First up, definitely going to order a set of these Kikkerland maze coasters. And that floral chair too, if I can ever find it!
Breakfast was at Midtown Zef’s, a new-ish coney island next to the historic Majestic Theater. I have a soft spot for coney islands because for most of my life, going to a restaurant meant going to a coney island. It wasn’t until adulthood that I learned that they’re primarily a Michigan thing. Coney islands serve up typical American fare like burgers and fries, but are usually owned by Greeks and Arabs so you’ll often find things like gyros (or pita sandwiches), spanakopita, baklava, and rice pudding on menus. Of course, they also serve coney dogs. Hot dogs topped with beanless chili, mustard, chopped onions, served in a bun. Anyway! As far as Midtown Zef’s goes, super cheap and tasty breakfast fare that serves up ridiculously huge portions.
We also stopped at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, which involved me making a fool of myself by spilling my coffee several times. I am not a graceful human. I also made a quick stop at The Peacock Room and picked up a new dress and jewelry. San Francisco’s Haight street used to be my go-to for shopping destination for clothing (I miss you, Ambiance!!) and Peacock Room hit the spot.
Camel leg bones! Well, replicas of them. And a Portuguese man feeding a puppy, painted by Reza Abbasi in 1634, the last great master of the Persian miniature.
Officer of the Hussars by Kehinde Wiley. I want this on my wall.
In fleeting moments, I want to live in Detroit. No, not to buy a $1,000 dilapidated house and spend all my savings rehabbing it while fending off squatters. A downtown loft and a rooftop garden is more my style. There is a lot of beauty in Detroit and reminders of its former glory are everywhere. Then I walk down block after block, without ever passing another soul or cross the 6 lane Woodward Avenue and I realize that the Motor City is not an ideal place to live if you’re not interested in owning a car… and it doesn’t have the kind of population density I look for in a city. Oh well. Detroit is unlikely to ever be a place I call home, but I’ll always be excited to visit.
Our visit was short, about 24 hours. By the end of of the trip, I was really missing my little booger. I think I’m strong enough to go a blog post without posting a photo of my cat. You’re spared this time.
Did you know that Detroit is haunted by a red dwarf? Sightings of the Nain Rouge in Detroit go back as far as 1701, first as a protector of the city and then as the harbinger of doom. The urban legend of the Nain has survived the centuries, but has seen a revival in the last few years with an annual parade to banish him from the city for another year.
The Marche Du Nain Rouge was yesterday, the Nain riled us all up with taunts (taking credit for the Polar Vortex and telling us that oh sure, we can fight poverty in Detroit with artisinal cheeses and launching Kickstarter campaigns for gluten free energy bars), then we paraded through the city while the Nain rode a fire breathing dragon.
Friends told me that in previous years, an effigy of the Nain was burned to banish him from the city for another year, but this year he got a parking ticket for illegally parking his dragon and had to leave. I think we succeeded in banishing him. Good and creepy fun either way.
Attendees are encouraged to dress up, preferably in masks so the Nain won’t recognize you next year. My friend Cristina is the giraffe on the right.
My favorite part of the parade? Dogs, of course. So many dogs in silly costumes.
The basement entrance of the Masonic Temple made for some really creepy/cool photo ops. There was an after party held in the basement, though before you think we’re party animals, we were just there to use the bathroom. Incredible building and I’d love go back there an explore some more. As our time in Michigan draws to a close, we’ll need to make a couple more trips to Detroit.
We ended the day at Neehee’s Indian Vegetarian Street Food in nearby Canton. That’s fig, pistachio saffron, and fennel ice cream. Without a doubt some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. They serve more than just ice cream and I would love to try their puri and dosas.