Saturday, June 30, 2012

Adventures in Azerbaijan - Chapter One

My husband and I were invited to travel with a group to Baku, Azerbaijan in May. I had to find it on a map, learn to pronounce and spell Azerbaijan. I think that was the purpose of this trip - to educate Americans about the country, its history, culture and people.

From the Press Release: "Coinciding with the Eurovision Song Contest, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, TCAE, a leading independent and an umbrella organization committed to advancing the interaction among American and Turkish, Turkic and Eurasian people, is hosting some 150+ representatives from the US including State Senators, State Representatives, Mayors and other officials and high level guests on a study trip to the oil rich country of Azerbaijan which last year celebrated its 20th anniversary of independence from the former USSR."

Landing in Istanbul, Turkey. From here we boarded a flight for Baku with 186 other Americans from around the country.

The Jumeirah Hotel in Baku was our final destination for the day.
 The sun was rising by the time we were checked in and ready for sleep.
 I never did figure out how long the trip took. Little Rock to Los Angeles to Istanbul to Baku.
 We had very little time to relax before taking off "sight-seeing".

An example of the old and new in Baku.

The Arkansas Delegation

Martyr's Avenue

Another Memorial

Maiden Tower

Walking through "Old City" Baku

Statue of Aliagha Vahid - Poet

Lunch - Art Garden Restaurant (Delicious!)

The chandelier at the Jumeirah Hotel
We were honored to be the first group to stay in this new hotel. It was very modern and full of silver and gold bling!

First Course - Dinner Absheron Marriott Hotel

Night View of Baku

Welcoming Dinner - (Note the dancers in the background.)
The Azerbaijani's do know how to throw a party!

The American Center - Foreign Languages University
The students study English as well as American culture.
There were movies, television series, books, etc.

Construction is evident everywhere in Baku.
 This is one of the more interesting new buildings.
 Five, five star hotels opened this year.

This project  was huge! It covered many city blocks.

Infrastructure was impressive in and around Baku.
 These overpasses were scattered about town and were lit up in different colors at night.

Samovar museum at Gala Village

Lunch at Gala Village

We attended dinner at a private home. It was a catered traditional meal.
This lady was making little tortilla-like pies - some filled with meat and others with herbs. 
Skewered chicken cooked over a spit was also served.

Following dinner we walked down to the Caspian Sea.

The wind was strong and cold.

Location, location, location!

I have more of Azerbaijan to share with you. I hope you will visit soon for Adventures in Azerbaijan - Chapter Two for another look at the "Land of Fire".  We will visit Gobustan Historical and Architectural Reserve, a carpet "factory" and Eurovision Song Contest.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Container Gardening

I have always enjoyed gardening. I remember when I was young and would go "calling" on the neighbors with my mother, no visit was complete without a tour of the garden. In the rural area where I grew up this consisted of a yard with various flowers and shrubs planted in any patch of dirt available with no real plan in mind. However haphazard the design, the result usually was colorful and interesting and worthy of the grand tour on the way to the car.

I never knew anyone to purchase bedding plants. They were grown from seeds or rooted from  cuttings from a friend. Only occasionally a special shrub or tree would be purchased from Hodges Nursery nearby. The country garden was truly a labor of love.

I no longer enjoy crawling around on my hands and knees or working long hours in the hot sun. I do still enjoy working with plants in containers.

Last year I decided to try over-wintering several plants with good results. The garage has windows and stays fairly warm in the winter. The mandevilla, cigar plant, and angel wing begonia all survived the winter in the garage. I also have a potted oleander from last year.

Mandevilla in a larger pot this year.

Cigar or Firecracker Plant
This shrub loses all its leaves. I cut back the branches before putting it in the spring sunshine.

Angel-wing Begonia
The angel-wing can be grown indoors. Cuttings root easily in water for additional plants.

One of my favorite container annuals is the wave petunia.

I found the Picasso Petunia on a "new plants to try" list.

Containers do require frequent watering. I am fortunate to have my mother "volunteer" to help with the watering if I have to be away for a few days.

♥andPeace, Myra

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Turkey 2011 Chapter 5 - Turkish Cuisine

I do love to eat! Prior to traveling to Turkey I researched the cuisine so I had a heads up on what to expect. I was not prepared for the amount of food served at just one meal. I learned quickly to go easy on the first course. At least two more courses would follow and then the mandatory fruit and tea.

Usually the table would be set with the salads, appetizers and bread.
The plates were beautifully arranged and very colorful. There was very little "dressing" for the salads. A squeeze of lemon was added. The red cabbage was marinated. The other dishes usually consisted of eggplant in a yogurt sauce and stuffed grape leaves.

Variations on this salad were served in most of the restaurants as well as the homes we visited.

Soup is served at most meals. Lentil is the most common also eaten with a squeeze of lemon.
There were different breads, however, my favorite was the "poofy" bread pictured above.

We had breakfast at a family home. The meal was served in the garden.
This photo shows the pretzel-shaped bread with sesame seeds called simit. Simit is very readily available and is even sold by street vendors. It is served with jam or yogurt or as a fast food eaten plain.

Here are a couple of examples of the typical restaurant main course. The meat is cooked over a "spit" and consists of lamb, ground beef and usually chicken kebab. The vegetables are also grilled. Watch out for that green pepper! Sometimes it would be mild but other times it would set your mouth on fire. The parsley is not considered a garnish - it was eaten as well. Bulgar pilaf is shown on these plates. I enjoyed this dish flavored with tomato paste and spices.

A special fish dish cooked with cheese and mushrooms. This was an outdoor restaurant with a stream and trout pond on the premises.
Baklava was served following most meals.
It consists of filo pastry filled with chopped pistachio nuts and soaked in honey.

Two common beverages in Turkey are hot tea and Ayran.
Ayran is made by adding water, milk and salt to yogurt.

The tea was so hot I had trouble handling the hot little glasses.
(But they are so cute!)

Tea preparation is very serious business in Turkey.

I did find Nestea but not the diet that I prefer. And don't even ask for ice.
After much delay the waiter will bring out a tiny ice bucket and proudly place about two small cubes into your glass with a smile. Just don't ask.
 Following most meals fruit was offered with tea.
The apricots were really a treat. The plums were eaten green and sour.
The cherries were delicious.

Fresh fruits and vegetables were readily available in the cities as well as the countryside.

Another Turkish specialty.
Doner Kebab

Most evenings we had dinner with "host" Turkish families in their homes.
Here are some of the meals we had with the families.

In one home the tables were set up for our arrival. After being seated the courses were served. The women were busy preparing and serving and didn't join us until everyone was served.
Most of the families we visited lived in high rise buildings.
This family had a lovely stucco home with a garden.
We were invited for breakfast.

Fruit and tea was always offered following dinner.

Our "host" families were very welcoming and seemed excited to be entertaining "the Americans". Their hospitality was what made this journey special. They hold a special place in my heart.

Turkish ice cream
The temperature was in the 90's. The texture is very different.

Most mornings we had breakfast in the various hotels.
Fresh bread, pastry, cereal, vegetables, fruit, olives, cheese, yogurt, boiled eggs and processed meat (similar to lunch meat) were the standard.
There were usually several prepared hot dishes available as well. 

Turkish cuisine is a wonderful way to experience the country and culture.

♥andPeace, Myra