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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

life abroad, no. 2: on photographing a new home



When I get really homesick or tired of Istanbul, one of the more helpful things I do (besides complain endlessly to Josh or friends back home) is to go out with my camera. It sounds silly, but it helps to remind me of how great this city can be when it's not all looking that beautiful to me.  And . . . to be honest, Istanbul isn't all that beautiful to me. (There, I said it.) I actually find this city, barring a few neighborhoods here and there, terrifically ugly, particularly in the downtown areas. It's not in any way a slam against Istanbul: some of my favorite cities are unfathomably ugly.

We're actually lucky to live in a particularly photogenic neighborhood, which is breathtaking regardless of whether it's lit up by bright sun, dampened by sheets of rain, or swathed in layers of stormy clouds. So really, it helps, especially because even in the non-beautiful parts of Istanbul, there are always interesting things to photograph.

When we moved here, I finally decided to pony up for a few new lenses. I'd bought a Nikon DSLR before our several-months-long trip in the spring and summer of 2010, but I've always regretted not going for a nicer lens. Some of our favorite trips within Africa predated even a nice camera, and I wish I'd bothered to buy one before I moved to Cape Town.

So nowadays, whenever I'm asked what to bring/pack/do before a move abroad or a long trip, buying a DSLR, a nice lens, and learning how to be reasonably competent at both is pretty high up on the list.

In reply to all questions regarding the lens I normally use, here it is in one place:

I normally use a very cheap, light, and fast 35mm fixed lens, but when I'm feeling particularly lazy or want to creep on people, I take out the zoom (55-200mm). I rarely use the kit lens that came with my camera (18-55mm) although it's happened. I try my best to stay with the prime lens, just because I think it takes the best photos, although in certain situations—large interiors, faraway scenes, and fast-moving toddlers (among other animals)— I'll take out one with zoom capabilities or a wide-angle lens. 

As you can see, none of it is particularly fancy or (compared to what camera equipment can cost) very expensive. If you're just taking photographs for fun, it matters little whether you use a Nikon or a Canon. I've heard arguments for both and none of them are very compelling—although, for what it's worth, Canon users seem to be way more into Canon than their Nikon counterparts. In my experience, is imminently possible to take bad photos with both. 

Last winter, when we first moved to our neighborhood, I used to take the camera out a lot when I went on walks with Aaron, back before he became a semi-uncontrollable toddler behemoth requiring two hands to corral. It was a way to get to know the neighborhood, and it made me notice a lot of things I don't know if I'd have noticed otherwise (I am extremely unobservant of my surroundings, in the best of circumstances). To name a few, that three-legged cat that hangs around at the bottom of our hill. My favorite bobbing wooden boat that's always moored to the same place. A crumbling building painted a shade of green that makes it look perpetually wet from rain.

Nowadays, I find myself bringing my camera out less but, when it's a particularly beautiful day or if we're going to a new neighborhood, I'll still lug it around with me. And when I don't, I inevitably am always kicking myself for not doing so. Since our time in Istanbul has coincided with Aaron's first year of life, I've been more attached to my camera than I normally am, but how else are you supposed to get a photo of your baby unconcernedly looking at his sock in one of most beautiful structures in the world? Hm? 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

the bosphorus, lately

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(strange and beautiful early morning light)


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(long evening shadows along the promenade)


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(pastel colored Ottoman yali lining the water)


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(a jewel-like green Bosphorus after a weekend of autumn storms)


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(one of our favorite perches facing the Asian side of Istanbul)


We weren't here for fall last year, but—having now experienced all three other seasons in this city—fall is by far the best. Summer here was a little brutal, to be honest—for someone who's constantly cold, I have an inexplicable aversion to hot weather. But now, the sun is actually pleasantly warming in the cooler temperatures, rather than feeling oppressively heavy. Mornings are crisp, evenings chilly, rainstorms moody. And we're headed to Vienna later this week, which is even colder (scarf weather)! Hope you're having a good last day of September. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

fig, cinnamon-clove, and bourbon cocktail

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Bourbon is, by far, my most favorite type of alcohol. A good one is mellow and smooth, with a deep sweetness and a beautiful color. It's refreshing over ice, and whole-body-warming when drunk neat. Bourbon is simple, straightforward, and unpretentious. You can order it at a fancy cocktail place or a cozy pub or a greasy sports bar, and it won't be out of place. (And it'll always come off as cool and relaxed.) You can't say the same for many other drinks. 

Let's talk about figs, too! Do figs freak anyone else out? I love figs. I love the smell of them and the taste of them. I just cannot stand the sight of them. They are fat and purply and squashy, with awful looking insides. They've been everywhere in Istanbul, stuffed inside clear plastic containers and secured with saran wrap, almost ripe to bursting. 

I finally gave in and bought a pack, although I seem to run out of enthusiasm after eating 3-4. So . . . my thoughts turned to bourbon, naturally. One of the beauties of figs is how deliciously they pair with other flavors, savory or sweet or herby, and I was hankering after a good bourbon drink, so I gave it a go. I usually think good bourbon should be saved to drink on its own, but, well, bourbon of any grade isn't really plentiful here. I used Maker's to mix this cocktail up, but you could easily pick something lower grade (you might not have a choice if you're buying in Istanbul). Don't use anything nicer! 

A note: You'll want to make the cinnamon-clove syrup in advance. I used brown sugar instead of white to give it a deeper flavor. Brown sugar syrups go well with rum and bourbon based drinks, but you'll usually want to stick with white sugar syrups for crisper spirits like gin and vodka . . . harmony of taste and all that, but there's also an aesthetic reason: syrups made with brown sugar will stain those beautiful drinks with an unappealing rust-colored hue. 

You'll need . . .

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 a handful of cloves, whole cinnamon sticks, and two cups of brown sugar . . . 

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 a few fat, weird looking, and ugly figs . . .

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 . . . and a bourbon of your choice.

Also, if you have Angostura bitters on hand, you'll want to use them. (I haven't seen them in Istanbul, and this drink is good without bitters, too.)


So . . . 

10 or so whole cloves
2 cups of brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks 
2 oz bourbon
1 fresh fig
Angostura bitters, optional
1 cinnamon stick, for garnish


To make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the cloves, brown sugar, and cinnamon sticks with 1 cup of water. Simmer until sugar is dissolved, then put the lid on the saucepan and let sit for another ten minutes or so. Strain and store and sealed container in fridge. Feel free to experiment! I wanted something with a stronger fragrance, so I used more cinnamon and cloves; I also didn't intend on simmering this for too long (didn't want it to get too syrupy), and accounted for that. 

For the cocktail . . . 

Peel fig, and drop it into a cocktail shaker.
Muddle with .75 ounce or so of the clove-cinnamon syrup.
Fill cocktail shaker with ice. 
Add in bourbon.
Shake well. 
Remove lid of the cocktail shaker.
(I know shakers have built in strainers, but the resulting liquid is too thick to go through easily)
Holding a tea strainer over a glass, carefully (and patiently) strain drink into glass.
You may have to clean the strainer midway to get rid of the excess pulp and seeds.
Strain again into a coupe or other shallow, wide glass.**
Add a good dash of Angostura bitters.
Garnish with cinnamon stick. 
Enjoy.


**You should use any sort of wide, shallow glass that brings your nose close to the drink. This particular drink has a small liquid volume, so a tumbler might be awkwardly large for it. You could use a martini glass in a pinch, although I used a coupe because sometimes you just need to drink out of a champagne coupe. You know?

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One last note: the one drawback to this drink is that it takes a little longer to make. The resulting liquid after you shake it with the bourbon is thick and pulpy from the fig and, honestly, kind of gross to look at. I had to double strain to get the clear color you see here, and watching the liquid fall drop by drop through the strainer was annoying. Again, not one for crowds, much like the pomegranate gin fizz from last week. But, I promise next Monday's offering is both crowd-pleasing and time-saving, and hopefully, in the meantime, you have a lovable drunkard in your life who will enjoy this (and appreciate the time invested).

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Friday, September 26, 2014

a falucca ride down the river nile

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Want a tip for Egypt? Do not go in mid-July. It hit 115 degrees persistently and mercilessly the entire time we were there, and we stupidly (because, hello, Egypt!) did all the touristy things anyway since it was Josh's first time there and I'd pretty much forgotten everything from my initial trip there, anyway. This falucca ride down the Nile was one of the brief respites we had from the heat. It was timed to coincide with sunset so the sun was waning (or, at the very least, not blazing directly overhead), a cool breeze blew over the water and puffed out the sails of our little boat, and we paused briefly to pick and eat a few tiny bananas on an island in the middle of our trip.

Fall has come to Istanbul, and Josh and I are both enjoying the crisper weather that's hit: it's pleasant to walk with Aaron snuggled up in his Ergo once again, and the cool air makes the steep hill to our house a little more bearable on our evening trips to the playground. We've got a friend visiting this weekend, and we're also experimenting with some fig and bourbon cocktails on Sunday. (If they turn out good, I'll share the recipe Monday! If they are a dismal failure, forget I ever said anything.) Hope you have a lazy, relaxing weekend!

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

aaron's meltdowns today, explained



September 25, 2014:

09:35: I broke his plum in half to remove the pit. Meltdown.

12:50: I wouldn't let him drown in the Bosphorus. Meltdown.

1:15: I tried to hold his hand as he ran down a steep hill. Meltdown.

reading: the secret place


I enjoyed The Silkworm so much that I was exhausted and disappointed when it was over, and essentially went on one of those reading binges where you race through a dozen lighter reads at a time since you don't have the attention span for a more dense novel. (Plus, I knew that Tana French's book was coming out in early September.) Between anticipating this book and coming off The Silkworm, I was in the mood for detective novels and read four Dave Gurney books, Michael Robotham's latest thriller, and re-read a few Hercule Poirot mysteries, my old fallback. (Like I said, it was a binge.)

But, anyway, back to Tana French. This book was good! It's crisp and fast-paced (unlike the other books, The Secret Place spans the course of only one full day). There are still the same stylistic quirks that I have some issues with, the main one being that I absolutely hate how these books are written in first person. I understand the gimmick of using a secondary character from a previous book and making him or her the main protagonist in the next, but you can still keep that trope while using an omniscient narrator. French's voice is, I think, too strong and distinctive to write convincingly in these various characters' voices, making all these first person viewpoints sound exactly the same across four novels with four very different narrators.

At the same time, I love French's voice—it's funny and poignant and snappy—so I'd never want her to change that for the sake of a rhetorical device.

Anyway. I'm trying to claw myself out from this murder mystery slump I've found myself in after I finish The Midnight Band of Mercy. I bought it four years ago at my favorite, now defunct, bookstore in New York, Partners & Crime. (Other favorites I've discovered here over the years: The Alienist, this incredibly creepy tale, and—fittingly—the Tana French books).