Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Small world of Crystal Serenity

These street musicians in Istanbul stopped their lively playing when the call to prayer rang out.

When Dave Ashley reached out by email after reading last month's story about my Mediterranean cruise aboard Crystal Cruise Line, I searched among my photos to find his picture. Turns out he was home in Lexington, Ky.  after six months aboard the Crystal Serenity playing trombone with the ship's Galaxy Orchestra. He'd found my story while searching the internet for the Serenity.

 I'd taken plenty of photos of the orchestra after meeting  and interviewing  Emery Lenvay of Madison onboard the Serenity. He's what the cruise line calls an Ambassador Host, dancing away his days and evenings with ladies on board in exchange for his passage aboard the ship. Emery, in turn, introduced me to Mama Lee, a woman who sold her house to live aboard the Serenity so she can dance with Emery and other Ambassador Hosts. I  wrote about both of them last month and Dave emailed me to say he enjoyed the story. He knows both of them of course.

I spoke to Dave by phone to learn what it's like to be a trombonist  aboard a cruise ship. It's fun, he said, and he's returning to the Serenity next week in Barcelona to begin a transAtlantic crossing to several weeks in the Caribbean followed by a 72-day long long voyage around South America.  I asked if he could get copies of the Travel section to Emery and Mama Lee, who were so nice to speak to me.

I never the  never found Dave's photo, although I've  sent him copies of the travel section and he's agreed to pass them along to Emery and Mama Lee. While looking for Dave's photo, however, I  found this one of these street musician in Istanbul. We were eating dinner in a sidewalk cafe and they stopped at our table to play for us. I started to shoot a video and that's when the call to prayer rang out. The musicians stopped in the middle of their lively song and  headed for the mosque to pray. You'll be able to hear the call to prayer next week when my Shopping Istanbul travel story comes out. I hope you , Dave, Emery and Mama Lee enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Muslim attire uncommon in secular Turkey

Istanbul's ancient history is revealed in its architecture, which includes the Haghia Sofia, built in the 532 as a magnificent Catholic basilica and converted into a mosque in 1453.But the city known today as Istanbul was founded by the Greeks in 657 BC and incorporated by the Roman empire in 64 BC. Back then it was known as Byzantium. When the Roman emperor Constantine declared it to be his capital in 430AD , it was renamed Constantinople and over the next 11 centuries many magnificent palaces and churches were built, including the Haghia Sofia, which today is a museum.
Many of the people living in Istanbul are Muslim and the call to prayer is heard five times a day, at which time everyone goes to the nearby mosque to pray. Ordinary people can visit mosques, except at prayer time, but must do as the Muslims do before entering: leave their shoes behind and wash hands and feet.
Turkey has been a secular country since the 1920s, so Muslims there look like you and me...jean, tennis shoes and all but fewer tattoos...but perhaps that's becausue they also expose less skin then Americans seem to for for the most part.  We saw no men in robes and only a few scattered women wearing burkas. Veiled women were seen of course, but probably no more than would be seen in Detroit, which has a large Muslim population. It's a country with a long history of being home for many different religions and tolerance is the way of doing things.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

No fear in Turkey among Ottoman slippers, mosques of Grand Bazaar

Wide walkways in the Grand Bazaar had their origin in the 1400s, when it was built on the trade crossroads between Asia and Europe so camels could carry goods to merchants inside..

Relatives asked if I was frightened or felt threatened during my visit to Istanbul, Turkey at the end of a Mediterranean cruise I took with my daughter in October.
The Thanksgiving Day question surprised me, since these are well-traveled, sophisticated people not given to the general fear expressed at the presence of Muslim people .
I felt neither frightened nor threatened during my short visit, I told them. In fact my daughter and I both experienced many sincere gestures of kindness and hospitality, to which I am ashamed to admit, we both at first responded with suspicion.
The largest city in Turkey has a population of 13.5 million, many of them Muslim, and straddles the Bosphoros, a busy waterway that marks the boundary between Europe and Asia. It's in Northwest Turkey, not far from the border of Greece and Bulgaria, but a long way from either Syria or Iraq, to the country's southeast. In fact, while we were aboard the Crystal Serenity peacefully sailing in the Adriatic and the Aegean seas, we'd both received urgent emails warning us that Syrians were crossing the border into Turkey to escape the turmoil in their own country and didn't we really want to head home right away rather than lingering overnight in Istanbul??
Dazzling lamps were among the purchases we wanted to make but didn't.
It's sweet to know your friends are worried  but we were both well-informed about what was happening in the world and unconcerned that it would affect us in Istanbul.

We had just 15 hours to spend in this great world city and were planning to shop the Grand Bazaar.
Part of that 15 hours had to be sleep time, since we arrived around noon and would depart our hotel at the godawful hour  of 3 a.m. to catch an early morning flight to Paris. We knew that we'd have to save a visit to the Blue Mosque, the Haghia Sofia and other historic wonders of Istanbul for another time. My daughter booked us an hotel in the heart of the old city, where Byzantium rose 2,000 years ago, preceding Constantinople which itself preceded Istanbul.
Our magic carpet ride began once we left our bags in the hotel  which turned out to be comfortable and just about perfect  - and a set out on foot to reach the Grand Bazaar, a dozen blocks away.

We passed street vendors slicing lamb for shish kabob from a slowly rotating cylinder of meat and others squeezing whole pomagranates into juice for waiting matrons. We stood in awe outside the many minarets around the Haghia Sofia when the call to prayer rang out from the towers. We ogled store windows and rug merchants, put our noses to one window with all kinds of lokum, also known as Turkish Delight, and stopped to photograph the entry to a Turkish bath. Soon, by some instinct found only among avid shoppers, we had negotiated the labyrinthe streets and were at one of the four main gates to the Grand Bazaar.
Our greatest adventure was about to begin.

Ottoman slippers with curled up toes, lush purple leather boots and a handcrafted turquoise fabric that has since become a bedspread were among the purchases my daughter made ion the Grand Bazaar. She bought the bag to carry them home.
I'm now preparing the Dec. 9 travel section, which will largely be devoted to shopping at the Grand Bazaar, and I'll update you now and then here. 

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Meet (again) a true adventurer from Mentor

I crossed paths once more today with Jayme Otto Noyes, a young woman from Mentor who I met two years ago in Croatia.
I found her again through an email directing me to her blog about trailblazing for a potential professional mountain bike race in rugged Haiti,  a place I'd flown over but never visited. Jayme is a very fit adventure writer who lives in Colorado and her story about Haiti is a compelling one.

We met on a voyage of the Adriatic aboard a 100-foot wooden sailing ship that visited several islands off the coast of Croatia where we hiked, ate, drank and got to know each other and the natives. I thought it was
 an astonishing coincidence, meeting someone from my same town so far away among just 12 other passengers. Despite the differences  in age and fitness levels, we bonded over than Mentor connection

For me the trip was a real adventure, but after talking to Jayme for awhile, I knew it didn't qualify as that for her. She ran the 7 to 10 mile island mountain trails that had me huffing and puffing.  Jayme is several decades younger than I am and I envied both her sense of adventure and her youth.

There were a few adventures for her on that trip, including eating her first raw oyster. It was an occasion I'd photographed, so I went back through my 2010 blogs of that trip in search of the photo I'd taken. I didn't find it, but I did find a shot of Jayme sitting peacefully on a wall overlooking a harbor at the midpoint of one of our island hikes.
Click on the highlighted text to meet Jayme and see what she's been up to. I'm pretty proud of her. 

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reading Travel: in print or online?

A string quartet tunes up and cruise staff prepares a buffet of sweets for the Mozart Tea aboard the Crystal Serenity  

They tell me people prefer reading online to the newspaper, but for Travel I just don't think that's true.

 It's in today's paper with all sorts of great stories, including one by me about a Madison man who cruises around the world by dancing with the ladies. And then there's the a Miami woman who sold her home to stay on board the Crystal  Serenity and dance as much as she wants to.

Or read about Jeff Frischkorn's visit to Spaceport, where ordinary people will soon be able to take suborbital flights into space.   

Or go with Caitlin Fertal  to Alabama, her first excursion into the Deep South, where it's in the 60s this time of year.

There's lots more in today's Travel section to check out.

Here's a novel idea. If you no longer subscribe, stop at a newstand and pick  up the Nov. 11 News-Herald. 

I'm promising some good reading and it's something you can save to read again. Use it to fuel your dreams or plan your own getaways. It lists plenty of websites too. 

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Scottish Highland cattle, humanely raised and good to eat

 These shaggy and sweet-faced Scottish Highland cattle live outdoors all year round in Geauga County.


I've been enamored of Scottish Highland cattle since I first encountered them in the highlands and on the islands of Scotland about 20 years ago. They're shaggy, with big horns and look a little like yaks, but they are sociable and sweet-looking, with long eyelashes and a docile demeanor that exhibited itself when they came over to the fence where I stood photographing them.

So when I discovered that local farmer Scott Boehnlein is raising Scottish Highland cattle and selling the meat to top chefs around town, I had to know more.

Turns out he chose to raise them for a number of reasons, including their wonderful temperment. Since the Boehnleins have eight kids who work around the farm he thought that would be important. The animals are also very hearty and prefer to be outdoors summer and winter. Their heavy coats protect them in the same way extra layers of fat protect other beef cattle. When Scott told me their meat is very tender since it's marbled with fat throughout, I knew I had to taste it.

Scott's cattle live outdoors and feed mostly on grass, supplemented by flax seed, which is rich in Omega 3. They're very healthy and are not fed anything with antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified organisms. The Boehnleins need to buy their feed since they don't have enough space on their hilly farm to raise it. Their cattle live as free-ranging creatures until they are slaughtered at 30 to 32 months old - almost three years old -  in contrast to beef raised in feed lots which are slaughtered at 18 months. Obviously it costs less to raise beef in factory farms since the animals are fed lots of corn which helps them put on weight so they can be taken to slaughter younger.

The Boehnleins also raise Berkshire pigs, another very hardy and disease resistant breed,  which go to slaughter when they're younger. In five months they go from eight pounds to 250 pounds.
 I've heard that in Japan, where meat from Berkshire pigs is called Kurobuta pork, it's the most prized meat of all. Berkshires are one of the oldest breeds known to exist and is the only pork eaten by Britain's Royals. The large herd of Black Berkshires kept by the royal family at Windsor castle are descended from a gift to the British royals by the Japanese royals.

When I went out to the Boehnleins' farm to research a story due to publish  Nov. 12, I bought a porterhouse steak and some pork chops. The meat was expensive, but it's so good many of the area's top chefs are buying it.

I hope that the Boehnleins' belief that profit is secondary to the importance of respecting these animals and  allowing them to roam freely is something that can be sustained. They've got my support, for sure, because it's also what I believe.

The steak was one of the best I've ever eaten, and I'll let you know soon what I think of the pork chops. The video here shows the process from farm to my table and introduces you  two of the Boehnlein daughters.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Breakfasts over the top at Baltimore's Blue Moon Cafe

There's usually a wait for a table at the tiny Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood. But it offers a good time to examine the very comprehensive menu.

The extraordinary quality, variety and settings for the food was one big surprise on my recent visit to Baltimore.This time most of my visit would be with the Baltimore Convention &  Visitors Bureau with a focus on museums.

  I had already been impressed with the food since I visit my daughter and grandson there several times a year, and she's a real foodie and a wine expert to boot. So when I visit we always go out to eat at least one night and I've eaten at some fine places, especially near her home in suburban Columbia, Md.

This trip I arrived at 7:30 a.m.on a Friday and after my daughter picked me up at the airport we headed for Fell's Point,a downtown neighborhood near the water,  to try Blue Moon Cafe, a place where we'd been defeated by long waits on my past weekend visits. "This place almost always has a wait, but this time we'll be there early on a weekday, " she said. "It's so popular they're open 24 hours on the weekends."

The Blue Moon  is housed in a 1700s brick building with just 36 seats, including those at a counter near the kitchen. It was about 8:15 a.m. when we arrived and already would-be diners populated the benches set up out front at 1621 Aliceanna St. The guy at the door told us it would be about 20 minutes, which was fine with us. So we took a seat on a bench around the corner and grabbed a menu for a look. They're known for the Captain Crunch coated French toast, which was showcased when this place was on Guy Fieri's TV show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

I knew French toast was not going to be what I ordered, so I examined the menu carefully.Among the menu items not often seen were potato cakes, eggs with salsa burritos, eight different omelettes, five variations of  eggs Benedict (including two with crab) and a scrapple and egg sandwich  I knew I'd be having plenty of chances to order crab when I joined my hosts later that morning for my weekend explorations, so I ordered creamed chipped beef on homemade biscuits, ignoring my daughter's suggestion that perhaps I'd be happier with a half order.

When I headed to the ladies room to wash my hands I discovered a unisex loo with an autographed poster of Guy Fieri on the wall. I'm not usually squeamish about unisex washrooms, but the man there before me left the seat up. Thank goodness the men in my life have better manners.

When my breakfast arrived, I was stunned with the size and good as it was I only managed to finish less than half of it.  I ogled the breakfasts being served at nearby tables, amazed at those Baltimore appetites. But I can recommend   the Blue Moon Cafe for anyone with a large appetite  and the desire to dine in historic quarters..

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Catching Mediterranean sardines for lunch

A small wooden shed holds nets that are lowered  into the sea to catch sardines near the mouth of the Po River off Ravenna, Italy.

Maybe it’s my Norwegian heritage or perhaps it’s my love of everything to do with the sea, but I adore the fish many others seem to avoid.
Sardines are one of those fishes and their anchovy cousins are another.
But I never knew how or where they were caught until my cruise last month in the southern Mediterranean.
I was up at the crack of dawn when the Crystal Serenity approached the port for Ravenna, Italy, where we subsequently went ashore. As we cruised in I saw in the darkness  what I  presumed to be some kind of offshore oil rig. But as dawn brightened the scene I saw similar wooden sheds on nearby piers with a footbridge extending into the sea,  connected with a device to lift and lower nets. Early that morning men were pulling in what appeared to be fine mesh nets wriggling with their catch.
When we went ashore to the customs and immigration building I asked about what I’d seen and discovered we were at the mouth of Po River and the fishermen were catching sardines — something done here for centuries.
Online I discovered the fish — members of the pilchard family—   probably got their name from the island of Sardinia where they are caught in great numbers. Technically, these small silvery fish are related to the herring —  which I met years ago at a herring market in Finland.
Sardines in America usually are found packed in oil in a tin  opened with a key, but I recalled from earlier trips to  the Mediterranean that they are prepared fresh in this part of the world. So from then on I scanned the menus at seaside restaurants at  every port call in search of them.

A lunch of grilled sardines, washed down with a chilled Mythos beer, was heaven on the Greek island of Mykonos.


I found my sardines at a small eatery along the shore of the Greek island of Mykonos, where I ordered them for lunch and washed them down with a good local beer.
My mouth has been watering for sardines ever since. Today I found the following recipe which I’m going to prepare at home and bring for lunch. I know my husband won’t be at all interested  and my coworkers will be likewise repelled. But I can’t wait to have them again.

Sardines for lunch, Ohio style
2 tins sardines in olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, divided
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, reserve the lemon and cut into 4 wedges
Freshly ground black pepper
 4 (1/2-inch) thick slices crusty bread
1 ripe Hass avocado
Coarse sea salt
 Drain  oil from 1 tin of sardines into a small bowl and set aside. Drain  oil from the other tin into another small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of parsley, vinegar, lemon zest, and black pepper, to taste. Add  sardines, stir to combine and set aside for up to 1 hour.
After 45 minutes, put a rack 3-inches from the broiler and heat the oven to the broiler setting on high. Brush each slice of bread on 1 side with the reserved oil. Put bread, oil side up, onto a  g rack set inside a sheet pan and broil 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Smash the flesh in each half with a fork.
Spread the avocado evenly onto the toasted bread. Top evenly with the sardines. Pour any remaining dressing on top and garnish with the remaining parsley.

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