Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies

CULTURE: Afiyet Olsun + Neighbors + Super Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

The Easiest Plate-Filling Peanut Butter Cookies

Knock Knock knock echoes from my apartment door. As a single woman who was raised in the States, I’m cautious of this sound. In the first week of coronavirus entering Turkey, I’m particularly so.  I’m not expecting any deliveries or visitors, but I look through the peephole.

The lady who lives in the apartment across the hallway from me stands at the door, looking right at the peephole – like she sees me. In her hand a plate of chicken and bulgur pilaf. I smile and open the door. Everyone in my building is keeping social distancing pretty seriously, and she pushes the plate into the door while simultaneously turning her face away as she isn’t wearing a mask and mumbles, “Afiyet olsun” (the Turkish equivalent of “Bon Appetit”). 

No, this wasn’t a special occasion. Recently I went to visit a friend who was injured and unable to walk (let alone cook for her family) for a while. Her Turkish neighbors kept a steady flow of home-cooked food coming, especially those first few days, without being asked or setting up a meal train.

While that circumstance was indeed a special occasion, I wonder if what made the action so organic is that bringing food to one another is already a commonplace occurrence.  Neighbors bring one another plates of food without ceremony with the expectation that you will return the dish with some homemade treat of your own to share. 

Once, the same neighbor from across the hall stopped me and my roommate as we walked down the hallway, on our way to dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants. “Wait, wait!” she waved us down. She proceeded to fill a bowl with popcorn as an appetizer and waved us back into our apartment to wait for the rest of the dinner she was cooking. Bit by bit she brought dishes to our door as they were prepared: salad, pilaf, beans. We grazed the whole evening as the plates and bowls began to collect on our table.

I felt cared for (even if my plans for the evening had been canceled in the process) especially as a single woman living in a foreign country. I knew that my neighbors care enough for me to make sure I’m at least well-fed. 

But another thought also began to come to mind as the plates piled up. I had already been made aware of the expectation to fill a plate once it was brought. This can certainly feel overwhelming for the ex-pat who has not yet mastered Turkish cuisine or knows what of the foods they do know how to cook would be palpable for a Turkish palate. 

Thankfully, I have found that the following recipe has been a hit among my Turkish friends and neighbors. It is also incredibly easy and quick. So easy that my neighbors and friends don’t believe me when I share the recipe. So quick that I can whip up a batch and return a plateful of hot cookies to my neighbors within 15 minutes of receiving a plate. 

The Easiest Plate-Filling Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup of chocolate chips of our choice

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F).  
  • Mix egg, peanut butter, and sugar until fully incorporated. 
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Fold in chocolate chips. 
  • Scoop onto a prepared cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. 
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Let cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a borrowed plate and bringing to neighbors. 
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies

Note: The trick to these cookies is finding a good peanut butter to use. While JIF brand peanut butter is now available in Turkey (and is my personal favorite), it is often quite expensive when you can find it. The only brand that I’ve tasted that is similar to the peanut butter in the States is the Tuğba brand which advertises having no added sugar. It comes in crunchy and smooth (either of which can be used for this recipe) for a reasonable price. 

I hope you find these as yummy and easy and I do! Let me know if you try them!

What is your go-to food for sharing with neighbors?

Afiyet olsun!

EVENTS: Urla Artichoke ‘Enginar’ Festival

In the states, chips and dip are a BIG deal… Chips and ANY type of dip are a big deal. Salsa, guacamole, cheese dip, french onion dip, veggie dips (both sweet and savory)…  Needless to say, we love our dips.

One of my favorite dips was artichoke and spinach dip and ironically enough, for a long time I couldn’t tell you what an artichoke even looked like. But if you mix veggies with the right amount of sour cream and cheese (and bake it) and you have me sold!  Outside of that dip and occasionally buying the cans artichokes for my salad toppings, I have never purchased an actual real uncut artichoke. And here in Turkey, they prepare and cook artichoke much differently.

Starting in April in Izmir, artichoke (enginar in Turkish) season is in full swing and starts to dwindle around the end of May. The markets and streets have vendors selling mountains of them. You can buy/sell them whole or ‘cleaned’, some with just the bottom part of the veggie and others with both bottom and the leaves.

A small nearby city, Urla, held its 3rd Artichoke Festival and yearly the masses come out for the 3 day event. So if you want to go, go early in the day because by 1 pm it is crowded. This quaint little town center is completely transformed into a sea of tents. The main area near the stage is mostly food while other nearby parking lots are taken over by local small businesses selling handmade goods.

If you aren’t sure about artichokes, this is the perfect place to go. Every vendor has found some new way to prepare them… savory, sweet, sushi (ok, i’m not actually sure they put it in the sushi), sandwiches, stuffed, casserole style, quesadilla style, dessert, and even a smoothie. You also have the option to buy other byproducts of artichokes like hand creams as well! While you wander around trying to decide what to eat and buy, you can watch vendors cleaning and selling artichokes behind their stands.

If you get tired of walking, stop and just enjoy the general cheerful ambience of the day. The festival has a list of programs throughout the 3 days such as cooking competition, classes, and children’s activities. They all can be enjoyed from the center of town, usually from the public stage. Everyone is in high spirits, locals sharing their hometown, and foreigners trying something new. And since the weather was perfect the day we went, everyone was even more joyful than usually.

Questions for our readers:

Do you like artichoke? How do you prepare it?

Would you go to an artichoke festival? What would you like to see at a festival like this?

201 7FunkTravels Izmir Chocolate Festival

EVENTS: Izmir Chocolate Festival

In the past, Turkey hasn’t been known for having the most decadent desserts outside of their amazing baklava and ‘Sorbet/Syrup’ desserts(basically sweet treats soaked in a simple syrup). And to continue that, chocolate in any form isn’t high on anyone’s priority list. In fact, I read that the average Turk consumes less than a kilo of chocolate a year whereas the average German can consume up to 7 kilos per year.  But, similar to the rising popularity of specialized coffee, the chocolate scene is slowly starting to make waves. The times are changing folks.

So, needless to say, when Izmir held it’s first annual (and long anticipated) local Chocolate Festival at the La Vie Nouvelle venue on March 31 – April 2… I had to go! The same organizers, Next Organization and Ateş Prodüksiyon, of private festivals such as the Izmir Coffee Festival back in October 2016 also organized the Izmir Chocolate Festival.

 

The festival was well planned with many booths representing mostly chocolate or dessert companies, but there were several other small businesses stands as well to give the guests some diversity. We found coffee, chocolate crepes, truffles, ice cream, and a beautiful chocolate fountain that you could dip your fruit into. Along with purchasing items from the businesses (or free sampling at some of the more generous booths), the festival offered workshops for both adults and kids and held seminars on different topics related to chocolate like ‘Health and Chocolate’.

If you got tired from all the sugar you enjoyed, you could sit and enjoy the view of the bay since the venue was right on the water. And there was always a DJ providing music in the background. We happened to be there while they were teaching the crowd how to do some type of line dancing and then some salsa dancing.

If the adults weren’t enjoying the music, the kids would. The kids were allowed up on the stage to dance and play at different times. Even though the venue was too crowded, the event was super family friendly.

Overall, I think the festival was worth going to! I will leave you with 3 thoughts. Firstly, while it was a fun time, I am not sure it was worth 2 full price tickets.  Fortunately for us, the festival offered a buy one, get one free promotion back in February. Secondly, although the time we went was super lively and hopping, I wish we would have gone on the first day early in the morning because well… less crowded… more food to sample/try… and just easier to have a conversation with people. Lastly, I so wish I would have signed up for a workshop! I would have loved learning alongside others how to make truffles or a Nutella praline, just to name a couple!

Questions for the readers:

Would you go to a Chocolate Festival near you? Have you been to one before?

What is your favorite chocolate treat?

Resources:

Izmir Chocolate Festival  (Facebook and Instagram)

Chocolate-and-candy Atatürk statue: The hot item at İzmir Chocolate Festival

Other spring festivals

 

 

FOOD: Buenos Aires Cafe, Izmir – ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: 4/5
Recommendation: Go!

Facebook Page link here.

Buenos Aires is a little cafe just down the street from our house in Izmir that opened shortly after we moved in. We met the owner one day as we were hauling an old toilet to trash… He kindly came out to help us. Since then we intended to go eat there but haven’t made it. This week we decided to finally try it and we were very glad that we did!

Catie and I were just coming off of the Whole 30 and were ready for some ‘real’ food! We asked the owner what was best to order and he suggested the Buenos Aires Burger and the Turkish Pizza. In my experience, it’s not wise to ignore order suggestions from the owner. We were hungry so I also ordered a side of onion rings.

The hamburger and the pizza were delicious! The hamburger, unlike a lot of other Turkish hamburgers, had a really good texture. This burger also had a piece of steak filet on it! The pizza had a thin, crispy crust that had a variety of toppings on it, including sucuk (a spicy turkish beef sausage), a type of pastrami (which may have actually been pork) and corn (which is not uncommon for Turkish pizzas). After not having pizza for a month, it was a great step back into the italian world.

The only negative thing about the dinner were the french fries. They were a soggy mess. While the flavors were fine, they had none of the ‘french fry’ texture that you want.  (*UPDATE: We have been there 2 more time since this review and the fries are our favourite thing to order! It seemed to be a one time mishap!) My hamburger came with some and our onion rings came with some too. (The onion rings were delicious but there were only 6 of time in a large basket of french fries — pro tip: more onion rings, less french fries!)

After dinner we ordered a Magnolia. Catie had seen it on the sign as we walked by day after day and wanted one. We didn’t actually know what it was though! As it turns out, it is banana pudding named after Magnolia Bakery in New York City.  We were served two kinds – banana/strawberry and oreo. Man… it was thick and delicious. I had not heard of it before but we may need to go the next time we are in New York or Chicago.

FOOD: Whole30 Tips and Tricks

In a non-travel related post, Jason and I just finished our 4th, yes FOURTH, Whole 30. (Ok, we were a few days short due to travel, but shhhh don’t tell!)

For 30 days, your diet is limited to unprocessed, ‘whole’ foods (mostly meat, fish, veggies and fruits) – no legumes, grains, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. You can read more about it here and if time, read the book that explains the logic behind it! Since our first round, more helpful resources and recipes have come out, and a few more foods have been added to the ‘acceptable’ list (like kombucha and white potatoes as well as sweet potatoes… which is really helpful for us here in Turkey because sweet potatoes are at fancy store and cost you your first child…)  

My sister is actually the one that started us on this journey, thanks sis…. Then, Jason read the book while we were dating, and decided to try it. I said, “Heck, well if you are going to eat this way then why not try this food thing together for 30 days…” And so it started the journey of learning more about food. Even more so, I learned about the relationship certain foods had with my body.

Here are 4 things I learned/habits it broke:

1. Dairy- I learned dairy is not very kind to my system and it makes me feel bloated. I realized this when I moved to Turkey the first time, but thought it was just milk. Not having any dairy produces for 30 days (which was REALLY hard by the way) taught me that I need to be more picky about what dairy I eat. It broke my habit of ‘having’ to have cheese on everything, and now I mostly go without it.

2. Coffee – I can drink coffee without yummy delicious coffee creamers. In fact, now I prefer it! I still like a little creaminess but I use other options like bulletproof coffee, coconut oil, and heavy whipping cream (non-box cream is really hard to find here in Turkey)

3. Sugar – This was the MOST frustrating part of Whole30. I did not realize how MUCH sugar I was consuming daily from grabbing a piece of candy here and there. Also, sooo much processed (boxed, prepared, powder, frozen) food has sugar hidden in it as well. I learned to check everything before I bought it even when I am not on the Whole30 for the rest of the 11 months of the year. If I can enjoy it without sugar then why buy something with extra sugar in it?

4. Cooking – I can cook, and it’s get easier the more you try. In fact, the more we cook with veggies, the more I can change up spices, oil, and combinations to create unique flavors. Messing up and creating messes when cooking is part of the deal!

For those who are just starting off with Whole30, here are my tips for you!

To be clear, we were not strict on organic/grass-fed products. At the time (and even now to be honest) it just isn’t always an option and it can be expensive depending on where you live and what is accessible to you.

Have on hand:

1. EGGS – This is your easy go-to lifesaver when you are feeling tired of cooking or just don’t have time! We always bought a large batch of eggs and boiled about half of them. This is a great quick protein option for pre or post workouts as well. The first round I was training for a half marathon and the extra protein servings were really important to me! Also, egg salad is a great lunch option!

2. MAYO – Spend the time to make your own mayo. If you take time on the weekend to do this, it will be a great help you during the week when you need a little ‘extra somethin’ for your food. Great for egg salad, chicken salad, lettuce wraps, burgers, dressings, etc.

3. SALAD DRESSING – Make a salad dressing on the weekend for your week. If you love ranch, use the homemade mayo and try mixing up the Whole30 Dump Ranch dressing (I like this one). If you don’t know much about oil based dressings, experiment! The usually ratio is 2/3(oil) to 1/3(vinegar) and add spices – THAT’S IT. Each week you can change it up a bit, and it will be helpful for a quick salad!

4. COFFEE lovers – You have a couple of options if you are a ‘milk and sugar with a little coffee’ person. First off, sorry, no sugar subs, but you CAN do this! But for milk – Canned coconut milk, ghee, heavy whipping cream and coconut oil. I personally prefer the fresh organic heavy whipping cream(I told you I am picky about my dairy products now!) or coconut oil (blend really well!). For the coconut oil, I use an ice cube tray and make little single serving coconut oil cubes (keep in the fridge). This makes it an easy go to for my morning coffee ‘creamer’.  

5. COCONUT MILK – This is one of my most used items during Whole30. A lot of indian/thai meals use dairy and canned coconut milk is a great substitute. It is perfect for making soup creamier. Only use the canned milked as there are no additives.

6. GHEE – Just spend the money and buy it – or make your own. Yes, it is not exactly like butter so you have to get use to it. Perfect for the bulletproof coffee, roasting veggies, and topping a baked sweet potato.

Hobo meal when we were out camping! Whole30 compliant while out and about!

Buy from the store:

– Trader Joes Just Mango Slices (dried mango) – NO sugar added(be careful because they get mixed in with the sugar ones!)

– Trader Joes Salsa and Pineapple Salsa(I think there is no sugar)

– Trader Joes Roasted Plantain Chips

– Trader Joes Ghee

– Trader Joes Almond Butter

– Trader Joes Grass Fed Angus Beef Burgers – reasonably priced

– Sesame Oil – Little pricey but gives a new flavor to roasted veggies and great for stir fry!

– Fish Sauce – Smell terrible but so good on thai dishes

– Coconut Aminos – Lifesaver for Asian meals which we love to make!

– Sam’s Club Coconut Oil – massive container

– Trader Joes or Aldi Nuts are great to have on hand for snacks(which technically is not encouraged)- the Whole30 list tells you which ones are preferred. Nuts are just expensive, but really good options to have on hand!

– Aldi Salsa – There are some that do not have sugar!

– Aldi Sweet Potato Chips – While this is technically not Whole30 ideals, the ingredients are only sweet potatoes, oil, and salt. And it was a heck of alot easier to buy these then make sweet potato chips (which we did our first round).

– Aldi has Grass-fed beef and chicken now

– Aldi avocados, avocados, avocccaaaaddddoooossss  – So versatile! Breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Actually most of our produce came from Aldi or TJ.

Cooking – My advice for first-timers… KEEP IT SIMPLE! While it would be great to recreate your favorite Chinese meal Whole30 style, it is not always easy. Don’t frustrate yourself, but instead learn how to make the simple items great!  Also, PLAN AHEAD. Food just takes more time in general when you cook from scratch. I am a planner when it comes to meals and Jason is not. So the last few times we have done Whole30, Jason just does it. He is better at last minute game-plans. However, if you are a planner and take your lunch to work, it easier to have a list of options to cook so that I wasn’t frustrated!  Something like, Breakfast – Eggs and Avocados, Lunch – Salad with Tuna, Dinner – Chicken with roasted veggies. Nothing hard!

Eating out – This one is just hard, and we just gave ourselves some grace. There are lots of eating out guide out on the web – like this one. Whole30 also covers how eat out in a little question guide.

Lastly, if you mess up, IT IS OKAY. Just continue on with the program! Your life is NOT ruined. Actually, Jason and I got engaged around day 2o something during our first Whole30 (couple that eat together, stay together 😉 ). So we celebrated by going to eat Mexican Food which is exactly the opposite of the goal of Whole30… let’s just say that after 20 days of no grains, dairy or alcohol, that was NOT a good idea to have the margarita! But the next day, we were back on track and finished out the rest of the program!

The more I write on this, the more I have to say! Maybe I’ll write another post about it in the future!

Questions:

What would you like to know more about?  Meal prep? Whole30 Instagram accounts?

What did you find helpful?

What area of Whole30 are you finding difficult?