Seaside in Winter: Aegean Sea

travel

Today, the sun made a rare occurrence in Turkey’s skies as it peeped behind grey, stratus clouds. Understandably, people set foot outside of their rooms, cameras around their necks and phones in one hand, eager to snap photos of the sun and sky, which resembled an orb against a painted sky. I happened to be staying at the Pine Bay Resort which was one of many resorts in the area on the coast of the Aegean Sea, decorated with swimming pools, beach chairs, cabanas, and bars next to its backyard beach area. Due to off-season, Pine Bay’s beach resembled a ghost town with sand covered in thick sheets of dried sea grass, trashed with plastic products, and home to stray cats and dogs who scoured through the bits and pieces on the beach to make a living. The scene was no paradise to the public, but it was paradise to me. I get to enjoy a private beach without paying thousands of dollars? Call it a dream.

6:01, my watch read. Approximately 25 more minutes until sunset as the sky made its way through the left side of the color spectrum and the thick, dark, yet clean waves washed up against the sand. The sounds of nothing but water traveled to my ears and I called out to the two stray dogs who were joyously chasing each other along the coastline. They were clearly best friends as they refused to leave each other’s side, and thankfully they accepted me as they elegantly sat next to me. One looked like a mixed golden retriever and the other was likely part-cocker spaniel along with many other breeds. They could have been dangerous, but I immediately gained their trust as they took me on an unforgettable adventure along the Aegean Sea which included climbing up an incompletely-built dock, finding unique items hidden in the beds of sea grass, and using wood bark as chew toys. Amongst the conglomeration of items on the beach, I found a message in a bottle, conch shells, and washed up jelly fish. At the moment, I wished to read the message in the bottle, but figured I would leave it for the next person who finds it. I was in too good of a mood to read a message that possibly could have been despondent. Besides, there was a big chance that I wouldn’t even be able to read the message.

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Close up

The minutes were passing by as the sky transformed from shades of pink, purple, and blue ’til nothing but city lights miles away could not be seen anymore. When the daily evening prayer rang across the sea and cities, I knew it was time to head home. With the two dogs leading, I ran quickly, splashing sand onto my legs and allowing the sea’s wind to blow through my hair….

Traveling in Turkey: Ephesus

travel, winter

It is surreal to admit to myself that I am in Turkey- a country in the Middle East (Never thought I’d be here), a country in both Europe and Asia, and a country so full and rich of history that I find myself living in an AP World History textbook. History was never my strong subject, but visiting the places we learned of make me want to read so much more about it.

To begin, I am in Turkey in the Winter for a few reasons: I am more free than I am in the Summer, travelling to Turkey in Winter is cheaper since it is not prime season, and there are a lot less tourists here.. I try to avoid tourists as much as I can, and oh the irony for myself being a tourist! Yes, but I leave minimal trace behind and I keep to myself, watching the culture around me rather than chasing destination hot spots and snapping photos non-stop.

With constant blizzards and grey skies, I finally visited a place that was blessed with a cloudy blue sky and shining sun: Ephesus. In all honesty, not many people know of Ephesus because these ruins are overshadowed by the Acropolis of Athens or Rhodes. When people think of Turkey, “ruins” just don’t quite come in mind… mainly Hagia Sophia does. However, Ephesus is absolutely worth the drive. It lies in Southwest Turkey, about a 9 hr. drive from Istanbul, and is home to structures such as the Temple of Artemis and the Library of Celsus. The entire site is breathtaking and magnificent since many of the ruins remain intact, unlike the site of Troy (Troia), which is also in Turkey.

The overall view at Ephesus is overwhelming, and time is a factor to consider. I recommend reading into its main sites and figuring out which ones you would like to focus on. Ephesus Breeze gives a detailed summary of the site and what you may expect to see. It is important to note that there are many stray cats around the site. However, they will not bother you as long as you do the same.

There is an admission office outside or Ephesus where you may purchase admission tickets. As of January 2019, the admission fees are as followed:

  • Ephesus: 60 Turkish Lira
  • Basilica of St. John: 15 Turkish Lira
  • Museum of Ephesus: 15 Turkish Lira

I purchased the first ticket for 60 TL and was able to visit the majority of the sites. I did not feel the need to spend any additional money for the other sites as the most important locations like the library and the amphitheater were included in the Ephesus fee of 60 TL. The ticket looked like:

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Ephesus entrance ticket

In terms of transportation, rather than immediately driving South to Ephesus from Istanbul, I recommend planning a round trip around Turkey beginning in Istanbul and visiting Ephesus on the way back to Istanbul. A complete round trip of Turkey would include Istanbul to Ankara (can visit Ataturk Mausoleum), to Nevsehir (to visit Cappadocia), to Konya (visit Mevlana Museum), to Denizli (visit Pamukkale), to Ephesus in Selcuk, then to Turkey. A detailed map of a round trip or Turkey is shown below:

Image result for cappadocia in turkey map

However, if time does not permit for such a trip, I still highly recommend squeezing Ephesus into your trip for it is relatively close to Pamukkale, and you would be able to visit both places within a day.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Europe Day 1: Welcome to Frankfurt on Christmas Eve

food, travel

This post is long overdue, so flashback to 4 months ago and the date is December 24th, 2017; location: Frankfurt, Germany.

Eight hours had passed and only four prolonged hours remained until the crammed and chilly plane touched down on the runway of Frankfurt International airport. The sky turned from blue to orange, with a tinge of pink and yellow as the golden orb made its debut from within the clouds, scattering blinding light in all directions.

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Morning light

My head instantly swerved away from the window as I dodged the rays of piercing white light, an indicator that the breakfast cart was about to make its presence. What was for breakfast, I wondered while keeping my expectations quite low because United Airlines is quite sub-par when it comes to food. Indeed, a sad breakfast of a buttered croissant, strawberry yogurt, and juice on a tray was served and I instantly lost my appetite. I’m not generally a picky eater but the breakfast was heavy; full of carbs, fat, and plain sugar. Nonetheless, I managed to eat the croissant and drink some juice as I propped open my journal to scribble down my musings to pass time.

When the plane finally touched down at 11 PM, I was ecstatic to set foot in a new country and explore the architecture, culture, lifestyle, and most importantly, the food:) The day was bleak, windy, and 35 F without snow. The absence of snow lead to an assumption that it wasn’t very cold, but the windchill factor was crazy and I ran back into the airport to put on additional layers of clothing.

As I stood huddled in clothing in the near-empty and old airport, waves of fear ran through my body. It was Christmas Eve so everybody was huddled at home, my surroundings looked deserted, and I had absolutely no clue how to get around the city. And with a quick peak from outside, many homeless people lay on the streets, some yelling at others while newspaper clippings and plastic wrappers flew in the air from large gusts of winds. The desolate scene was quite intimidating, but the beauty of the infrastructure ensured me everything would be just fine. I purchased a Deutsche bahn (local train) day pass for only 6 Euros and hopped on and off at random stops to explore the city. All stores were closed and few people roamed the streets, but spectacular church steeples, the Main river, and Baroque and Renaissance architecture kept me intrigued.

bike

A deflated bike in Frankfurt

I didn’t view globally famous destinations such as the Brandenburg gate or Neuschwanstein Castle, but the simplicity of strolling for free without hordes of tourists is one of the best ways to fathom a country. After many photos and thousands of steps were taken, I realized it was well past 3 PM and I had not eaten since the sad croissant from the flight. Ideally, a grocery store would be in sight so that I could purchase a sandwich or a meal, but nothing was open, so I hungrily hopped back onto the tram and rode to the “Frankfurt City Centre” as I supposed this stop was probably the main hub.

The City Centre was quite packed, and I was grateful to see a good amount of people, happily enjoying Christmas Eve with their families. Furthermore, some restaurants were open so that truly made me happy. The time was 3:20 PM when I decided I would have an early dinner so that I wouldn’t be hungry anymore. The very first restaurant I saw was Zum Standesamtchen, a cozy and warm restaurant, with a spiral staircase and all wooden furniture. The interior was quaint with very little space, but very welcoming. I was seated at a corner table underneath the spiral staircase, and it was after this dining experience that reminded me of the difference of dining cultures in Europe vs. America. One, water is never free. Two, tax is already included in the price. Three, sometimes tip is included in the price so I honestly never knew when to tip, but the waiter here semi-rudely made certain that I tipped him…

liver dumpling

Liver dumplings

escalope

Wiener Schnitzel

Despite the semi-rude waiter who probably made me tip excessively, I had a good time here. I must say, Germany is not known for its food and that was certainly evident. We were served 3 entrees and everything was meat and potatoes and not a single trace of a vegetable besides the miniature side salad that accompanied the Schnitzel. Salty, meaty, and carby, my heart was warm and my stomach was full after consuming their Schnitzel with green sauce (a local special), roast pork leg, and liver dumplings. I don’t think I have eaten so many potatoes in one day, but in a hungry moment, that was all I could eat besides meat. After ordering a bottle of water for 8 Euros and changing my mind before it even came, the waiter told me that he had already put it into the system and that he couldn’t change it. This was perhaps the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, I ordered a drink, changed my mind after a minute, and was told that I’d have to pay for it anyways… Well it was Christmas Eve and I was in no mood to be in a grudge and so I paid for the meal, paid for the water, and paid for 25% tip. 25% seems rather excessive, but the waiter said I must tip 25% and he watched me calculate and write the tip on the receipt. I don’t know why he was scrutinizing me like that, but like I said, I was in no mood to be in a grudge. With a warm and happy heart, I walked several thousand more steps until the sun had set, with which I rode the tram back home. Tonight’s home was Moxy Hotel, one of my favorite hotel chains in Europe. I had previously stayed at the Moxy in Vienna and was extremely happy to return to the hip, colorful, and lively hotel. I then went to sleep early in preparation for tomorrow’s greater adventure.

moxy

The Moxy Hotel lobby

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Moxy Hotel Frankfurt

 

10 Days in Germany & Switzerland

travel

I spent 10 days in Germany and Switzerland, and experienced the European celebration of a New Year. We were surrounded by people in the cold streets, full of laughter and alcohol, and fun fact: people came up to my brother and I and asked to take pictures with us as if we were celebrities… lol. Maybe cause we were the only foreigners in the area. I was eager to leave 2017 behind because it was one of the roughest years of my life. With all that had occurred, being in the winter wonderland somehow gave me hope that 2018 could be much better. On the other hand, Mother nature never fails to impress and I witnessed the beauty of earth with my own eyes instead of pictures in a Nat Geo magazine. Well, with all that said, Happy New Year.

 

Blog posts of my travels in Europe coming soon….

 

Keep an eye out!

Soft Maple Cookies (Oil-Free, GF, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free)

food

I have recently been intrigued by a website called Feasting on Fruit, where the author, Natalie, creates mostly sweet but also savory recipes that uses fruit to replace the fats or the refined sugars. After watching some of her videos, I was a little skeptical of these recipes because some of the outcomes looked a little dry, but I decided to try a few of her recipes and was pleasantly surprised with how scrumptious the desserts were. It is so difficult to fathom that these desserts are good for you and made with natural ingredients. I was inspired by Natalie to make up my own recipe, and using her techniques, which often involves using a date paste as the fat and sugar, I came up with a soft maple cookie recipe that is out of this world. I highly recommend you all to check out Natalie’s site, and without further ado, let’s get baking!


Soft Maple Cookies

yield: 8-10 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 c. oat flour
  • 10 pitted dates soaked in hot water (any type of dates work)
  • 1/3 c. non- dairy milk
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
  2. Place the dates in a food processor and pulse while slowly adding in the non-dairy milk. Do not add all the milk in at once because it may splash all over the place out of the food processor. Then add in the maple extract. A sticky date paste will form.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the oat flour, baking powder, chia seeds, and cornstarch until evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour the date paste into the dry mixture and mix until a dough is formed.
  5. Using wet hands, roll the dough into balls and flatten to form a small cookie. You can decorate the top with some cacao nibs or sprinkle with nuts!
  6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Take out and enjoy!

These cookies taste best when they’re fresh out of the oven and piping with hot steam. They won’t have a gooey consistency, but will instead taste soft, moist, and cake-y. Let’s also not forget to mention that your entire kitchen will smell like maple 🙂

Soft maple cookies

 

 

 

Creamy Spinach Pot Pie

food

The perfect Winter dish to battle the unforgiving cold outdoors is one that pipes clouds of steam and consists of rich, creamy sauces. With a dearth of fresh ingredients at home, I had to cleverly improvise a recipe to finish off all the perishable products in the fridge so that I could head out for a trip without coming home to spoiled food.

Thus, this isn’t your traditional pot pie. It’s simply a mix of things cooked together to form a beautiful product. I was pleased with the outcome, and I served it to a few friends who thankfully all enjoyed the “pot pie”! It is simple, cheap, quick, and easy to make and could be the star of an elegant Winter dinner.


Creamy Spinach Pot Pie

yield: 4 pies

Ingredients:

  • 1 8 oz. can pillsbury crescent rolls
  • 2 large carrots
  • 7 oz. frozen spinach
  • 1 pkg. cream cheese
  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 5 oz. frozen peas
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheese (optional; use for extra goodness)
  • 3 strips bacon (I used turkey bacon)
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)

Directions (photos below!):

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  2. Thinly slice the carrots into circles and dice the bacon into cubes.
  3. Cook the bacon in a pan until the fat is rendered and drain the bacon and set aside. Using the bacon grease, saute the carrots for about 5 minutes and then toss in the frozen peas and spinach until all the vegetables are completely cooked and combined.
  4. Add the cream cheese into the vegetables and stir slowly until the cream cheese is completely melted. Add the 3 tbsp. of milk to thin the mixture. Add in the bacon and stir until mixture is completely combined.
  5. Let the mixture simmer for a couple minutes until a rich, thick consistency is reached.
  6. Roll out the chilled crescent dough and using the ramekin as the template, cut 1 cm. around the ramekin to form the circle of dough that will cover the pot pie. You can also use a mini cookie cutter to cut out a shape to garnish the top of the pie. I used a mini star cookie cutter.
  7. Once the dough shapes are cut out, take the ramekins and spray the insides with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon in the ramekins about 1/2 c. of the vegetable, cream mixture, sprinkle with shredded cheese, and top with the crescent dough. Using a fork, press down the outsides of the dough against the ramekin rim.
  8. Beat an egg in a small bowl, and using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash onto the crescent dough.
  9. Repeat until all ramekins are complete. Bake at 350 °F for 10 min.

 

Spoon the vegetables into the ramekins

cut the dough

Use a fork to press down the edges of the crescent dough

covered pies

brush

egg wash

fresh out the oven

perfect winter meal

Forget about the gym at the moment and make these pot pies! I promise you that they will be a huge hit among the dinner table!

Vegan Queso (No Cashews!)

food, healthy

When Vegans say nutritional yeast “really does taste like cheese!” I always mutter mmhmm under my breath and roll my eyes a bit. Cheese is cheese. I may be the biggest cheese lover in the world, so I WILL know if I am eating fake cheese. So the thought of some orange flaky bits being able to replace the gooey goodness of cheese seems too good to be true, but was it too good to be true?

…………………

OK. Yes. It was too good to be true and the nutritional yeast vegan queso was simply not up to par as the traditional non-vegan queso, but I do have to say it comes in a close second and serves as a wonderful guilt-free snack. I’ll still relish on my favorite Torchy’s show-stopping queso here and there, but nutritional yeast queso is something I’m going to eat pretty regularly since it actually contains the good stuff. The good stuff, you know? The B-vitamins, folate, zinc, and all other immune-boosting nutrients that trump all the saturated fat in real cheese.


Vegan Cheese (No Cashews)

yield: approx. 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. potatoes diced
  • 1 c. carrots diced
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar or lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (optional)
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder (opt.)
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder (opt.)
  • 1/4 c. nutritional yeast flakes

Instructions:

  1. Boil the potatoes and carrots together until soft and tender. I like to boil on high, turn the water off and let the remaining heat soften the vegetables to save energy!
  2. Drain the vegetables and let them cool a bit but not completely.
  3. Place the vegetables in a high-speed blender along with all other ingredients and blend until completely smooth and creamy.
  4. The texture should greatly resemble queso. It should be gooey and melty.
vegan cheese

look at that queso!

I’m not a food chemist so I don’t understand how this vegan queso gets its gooey consistency, but the resemblance with traditional queso is uncanny. Also, if you’d like to spice up your queso, by all means you may add a roasted pepper!! Now the holidays have rolled around, this is a great dip for parties so go ahead and deceive your friends!

Frozen Feet and Hands, but It’s All Worth It

travel

Lake Louise, Alberta

Even two pairs of wool socks and two pairs of my thickest gloves were not enough to block out the frosty weather. My rain boots that rode up to my knees did not stop piles of snow from falling into the crevices of my boots. Maybe I should worn boots that extended all the way to my hips? That would look quite ridiculous…. My trip to Lake Louise in Alberta was quite painful physically, but my eyes were receiving a treat. They got to witness a lake completely frozen, capable of supporting many ice skaters. They got to witness the frozen glaciers behind the mountains. They got to witness heaven on earth! The lake had turned solid and a glowing blue tint glimmered over the ice. Soft piles of snow up to 7 feet lay on the side and any open water was completely frozen. Unfortunately there were multiple avalanche warnings, making hiking alongside the mountains impossible. My face, feet, and hands suffered the agonizing cold but nature’s beauty made up for the pain.