about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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the atlanta food and wine festival

Peach sliders at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2014

Peach sliders from Revolution Donuts

Recently, I was telling a friend about how I was at Ben & Jerry's on a press trip and heading to the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival for media coverage.  They laughed and said that it didn't sound like "work."

It is work.  It's just that I happen to have a great job .

Every now and again, I pinch myself to make sure that this is real.

Andouille sausage with polenta Crab benedict
Peach and ricotta dumplings
Pancakes Empire breakfast at AF&WF

Empire Breakfast at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

I landed head-first into this whole writing thing, because a passion for food, travel, and writing came together on this personal pet project, and people liked what I had to say.

Passion rules the world, yes?  And, when, we are passionate, we produce great things.  It's the story of humanity.

And, it's the story I heard over and over again at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

French Broad Chocolates Olive & Sinclair chocolates

French Broad and Olive & Sinclair chocolates

Dan and Jael Rattigan quit law school and business school to hit the road and head to Costa Rica where they started a small chocolate shop and bakery that quickly became popular with the expats.  After a few years, they moved to Asheville, North Carolina to open up the French Broad Chocolate Lounge , one of the best chocolate shops we've ever visited.  At the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, they presented a talk on Sipping Chocolates, and we tasted a maple and smoked sea salt Liquid Truffle.  The silky smooth ganache floated on the tongue and the smoked sea salt contrasted beautifully with the velvety sweet maple syrup.

Olive & Sinclair chocolates

Olive & Sinclair chocolates

Like French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Cacao Atlanta and Olive & Sinclair are bean-to-bar chocolate makers, starting with finding high quality cocoa beans across Central and South America, importing those beans, and producing their own beautiful chocolate.  They are working to change the way we look at chocolate, developing something purer and more complex than the typical Hershey bar.  I took a Raw Chocolate class with Kristen Hard of Cacao Atlanta and we learned how to taste chocolate as the master chocolate makers do; it's an intense process where we compared and contrasted quality, style, flavor, and texture.

Bacon wrapped duck Barnsley Resort shrimp dish
Frito pie in a Frito bag Ribs from Central Barbecue
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Chef Rivers with brisket
Pulled pork sandwich Smoked chicken wing
Brunswick stew at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Ribs

Barbecue and meats at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

And, as with the chocolate, there are other chefs who focus entirely on smoking and barbecuing the best meats out there.  Like John Rivers of 4River Smokehouse who taught a class called "De-Regionalized Barbecue" and created what Patrick called the perfect brisket rubbed simply with salt and pepper.  At the Tasting Tents, we talked to chefs who had spent years perfecting a recipe for brunswick stew, ribs, or pulled pork.  Their eyes lit up as they raved about a certain producer or a type of technique.

In one of my favorite classes on Cheese & Fermentation, Chef Matt McCallister of FT33 in Dallas confessed that he has rented an apartment across the street from his restaurant and crammed it full of refrigerators so he can store all of his extra cured meats and pickles.  That's 1500 square feet of refrigerators.  That's passion.

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Barnsley resort
Tomato meringues Cheese and pickles
Sassafras ice cream Drinks
Pimiento cheese Bean salad

Scenes from the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

It was a weekend full of passion.  Passion for food.  Passion for drinks.  Passion for all of the good things that make life sweet.


The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is held each spring in Midtown Atlanta.  Tickets start at $100 for Tasting Tents only up to $3,000 for the full Connoiseur experience.  I would recommend a day pass or a multi-day pass which gives you the ability to attend both classes and the Tasting Tents.  It's an amazing event and the best Atlanta food festival I've attended.  It's worth every penny, especially since the Tasting Tents are all you can eat and all you can drink, and everything taste was excellent.

For lots more information on the 2014 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, check out my posts at About Food Travel on:

* I received a media pass to attend the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival but, as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.

being on the aegean

Bodrum Homeaway rental
Bodrum Homeaway rental Turgutreis Homeaway rental
Homeaway Turgutreis rental Homeaway Turgutreis rental

Turgutreis Homeaway rental

The break was inevitable and necessary after our hectic spring months: houseguests, bustling Istanbul, two blog trips to Umbria and Catalunya , and a week in touristy Cappadocia .  We arrived in Turgutreis, Turkey, saw the apartment, set down our bags, and did not want to move.

Turgutreis sunset

The setting sky one night; view from our apartment

(And, really, can you blame us?  We have stayed in some amazing apartments and hotels in our time but I can safely say that we have never had a better view than our Homeaway rental in Turgutreis , where we woke every morning to the clouds lazily drifting away from the Greek islands to the evenings when the sun set over the fishing villages surrounding Turgutreis.  We drove all over the Aegean coast and never saw a better view than the one we had on our back porch.)

Sunset from Turgutreis

View of Kalymnos (I think) at sunset from Turkey

I occasionally get the question from relatives and friends who don't read our blog on what our daily life is like.  And, I respond that my daily life isn't all that different from theirs --- it's just that I'm moving around quite a bit more.  We wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, take the dogs for a walk, work on the Internet, do some walking around, shopping, or market-exploring, and wind up with a nice meal out or cook dinner ourselves.  Sure, there are days when we're hot air ballooning , canyon jumping , and scuba diving , but, most of the time, we're simply trying to be in a place.

Chewy and Abby at lunch Mosque in Bodrum
Flowers on the Aegean Flowers in Turgutreis
Beach in Turgutreis Us walking in Turgutreis

Shots of Turgutreis

Being in a place is different than touring a place.  It's the difference between rubbing on a tiny bit of perfume from the magazine pages so you get a whiff of the newest scent versus spraying on enough so that the folks in the next two seats catch your aroma.  You're going to smell good either way, but the intensity of the experience isn't remotely the same.  (And, then, there's bulldozing through a place --- which we've done when limited by time constraints --- which is more like dousing yourself in enough perfume to beat out the old ladies ten rows behind you.)


Bodrum castle Flags in Bodrum
Bodrum flags Flags in Bodrum
Bodrum views Peacock in Bodrum

Views of Bodrum, from and around Bodrum Castle

None of these ways are the wrong way to travel --- we've done all of them, as I'm sure all of you have --- but, if possible, we prefer to be .  And, the Aegean Coast is perfect for that sort of trip.  There's some nice things to do: a complete scrub down at the traditional hamam in Bodrum, where my friend and I stripped down and two ladies scrubbed, soaped, and massaged us, all the while exclaiming at our unusual curly black hair.  We walked through the Bodrum Castle, spent time on the beaches (though none were as white sand and pretty as the ones in the Dodecanese Islands), did a tiny bit of scuba diving, and roamed the massive Turgutreis market on Sunday.

Sunset in Bodrum

Sunset in Bodrum

Other than that, we ate a lot, sat on our back porch, admired the views, and simply were in the place where Turkey meets Greece.  It was lovely.


Our Homeaway rental in Turgutreis is one of our all-time favorite vacation rentals.  The apartment is a beautiful, clean, and modern two bedroom/one bath, with a comfortable double bed in one room and two twins in the second.  The views out the backyard are just incredible and it's located a short walk away from the beaches.  A car is necessary but the town of Turgutreis is only a few minutes away and there are plenty of excellent restaurants nearby.  We preferred Turgutreis to Bodrum because it is much less touristy but with all of the amenities --- including a yummy kebab stand --- that any visitor to Turkey might need.  We also felt that the house was very reasonably priced at around 50 GBP per night (though the prices increase depend on the season.)

Best of all, Erol and his wife Charlotte are perfect hosts.  They did everything in their power to make our stay comfortable, including bringing us gozleme and pastries when their housekeeper made them; watching, feeding, and letting our dogs out when we took a day trip to Ephesus and a two day trip to Pamukkale (incredible!); and giving us a host of recommendations on restaurants and things to see in the area.  They helped confirm that the Turkish people are amongst the kindest and most welcoming in the world.  We feel so fortunate that we were able to stay in their home and highly highly recommend their apartment to anyone interested in spending time on the Aegean Coast (especially if you're traveling with children or pets).  We will DEFINITELY stay at their place again if we are back on the Aegean.

* Note: Our stay in Turgutreis was partially sponsored by Homeaway , but every single opinion is mine and mine alone (with a bit of input from Patrick), without any bias whatsoever.

beyond sultanahmet

Sultanahmet by night

Sultanahmet at sunset

"Sultanahmet . . . it's like a big museum," Ceylan Zere, the Context Istanbul city manager tells us of the main tourist neighborhood in Istanbul.  "The rest of Istanbul is where people live."

The moment we enter Sultanahmet, we are transported into Touristland, a place where hawkers push us to buy carpets and Turkish delight, restaurants serve bland fare at ridiculous prices, and English speakers outnumber the Turkish ones.  But, away from Sultanahmet, we discover that Istanbul is a city of a thousand villages.  Each neighborhood is unique, distinct, and dissimilar from its neighbors, so to understand Istanbul, we walked . . . a lot . . . hearing and understanding stories about Istanbul's past and present.

The Galata Neighborhood

Vendor at the Galata market Galata area
Fish at Galata market Vendor at the Galata neighborhood

Scenes from the Galata market

We walk across the Galata bridge in the waning day's light, past the fishermen reeling in their lines, and away from the market where vendors showcase the Bosphorous-caught fish and vegetables trucked in from the countryside.  The Galata neighborhood has been many things: it was a fortified part of the city, held by the Genoese sailors; Armenian and German shopkeepers sold their metalworking in this area; the French high school and Greek Orthodox Churches were located here; and, for many years, the Galata area was the banking center of Istanbul.

Genoese wall

Galata Tower Galata area

Galata Tower; run-down buildings; church in the Galata area

But, then, as happens all too often in many cities, the Galata neighborhood started to slide downhill.  Beautiful buildings and monuments lost benefactors and turned to ruin.  As prices became cheaper, the artists began to move in, reclaiming this portion of the city for their own, as they recognized how close it stood to Istanbul's downtown area and main bazaar area.  Slowly, the Galata neighborhood became the arts and fashion center of Istanbul, and, now, though many streets are full of ruined building, it is easy to find street art (see the Santas hanging on the top picture above), high end fashion stores, great restaurants, and beautiful people enjoying Galata's charms.

Istlikal Street and Taksim Square

Istlikal Street

Istlikal Street Stuffed mussels seller
Istlikal Street Atlas Pasaji Istlikal Street

Views of Istlikal Street and the Taksim historic tram

Istlikal Street is 1,400 meters long and chockful of big malls, shops, and tourist vendors.  But, behind Istlikal Street's smooth exterior lies a turbulent history.  To understand a bit about Istlikal Street, you need to understand a bit about Turkish history.

Until the 1920s, Turkey was the base of the Ottoman Empire.  Istlikal Street at that time was the homebase for most European diplomats and ambassadors and many Armenians owned high-end stores along this street.  After the Allies defeated the Ottoman Empire in World War I and split up the Ottoman Empire, Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, defeated the Allies and formed the Republic of Turkey in 1923.  This Republic was an amazing accomplishment and Ataturk is to this day revered in the same way that George Washington is revered in the United States.

Ataturk and the young patriots made many huge changes to Turkey.  The new Republic was completely secular --- and, Turkey, today, is a completely secular nation.  As part of that secularization, all religious symbols in public places were banned, meaning that men and women could not wear crosses or cover their heads with head scarves or fezes and, even today, head scarves are not allowed in public universities and schools.  Ataturk also opened up Turkey to tourism and Istanbul became one of the most popular tourist cities in the world.

Hotel Hotel Londra Istanbul
Hotel Londres Hotel Londra Istanbul

Hotel de Londres, one of two hotels that the Orient Express passengers stayed in, and where Agatha Christie stayed

One of the other controversial changes the nationalists undertook involved the Armenians and the Greeks.  Though much could be said about the Ottoman Empire, they certainly encouraged a diverse population: in the 1890s, 50% of the population of present-day Turkey was non-Muslim.  Following the foundation of the Republic, all persons of Greek origin were asked to leave Turkey and go "back" to Greece, and the Turks were sent back to Turkey from Greece.  At the same time, Armenians were forced out of Turkey back into Armenia.  There's a lot of debate about how many Armenians died during this migration but, suffice it to say, it was a lot of people.  Today, only 1% of the population of Turkey are non-Muslims.

(This, by the way, is why Turkey is so adamant that the Armenian repatriatization wasn't a genocide: if Ataturk and the first revolutionaries committed such a heinous act as killing thousands of people simply because of their race, then the entire foundation of their republic is at risk.  For us Americans, this would be similar to someone claiming that George Washington brutally killed thousands of black slaves.)

Greek Orthodox Church near Istiklal Street

Cicek Pasaji
Book Bazaar Fashion stores on Istiklal Street

Greek Orthodox Church and walking through one of the underground malls in a Pasaji

So, what does this all have to do with Istlikal Street?  Well, as the Armenians were forced out of their storefronts, new storeowners came in, changing the entire character of this neighborhood.  What was once a primarily Armenian and Greek neighborhood took on a new and different tone, but vestiges of that former history is still to be found on Istlikal Street, in various tiny shops and stores.  There is even a leftover han , one of the communal inns used by traveling merchants during the Ottoman period and tiny arcades that once housed vendors and, now, are underground book bazaars and thrift stores, known only to the locals.

The amazing part is that all of this history is tucked away behind smooth street facades of McDonalds, Zaras, and shopping malls.

The Asian Side: Kadikoy and Uskudar

Views from Asian side

Views from Uskudar

The Asian side of Istanbul is largely ignored by tourists and there are many, many Istanbulites who will only stay on the European side and never cross the Bosphorous to the Asian side.  That's a shame because the Asian side has its own unique and beautiful character.


Uskudar street with its quaint homes

Uskudar on the Asian side is also known as Harem because the sultans often gave his mother, daughters, and other members of the imperial harem property or money as part of their salary.  The women of the harem frequently built huge mosques in Uskudar facing the Bosphorous because the property in Sultanahmet or Eminonu was reserved for mosques built by the sultan himself.  A large number of the Armenians and Greeks who live in Turkey live in the Uskudar area and it is easy to find Armenian churches, Greek Orthodox churches, and mosques on a single quaint street in the Uskudar area.

Pickled pine cones Dried eggplant
Green almonds Cheese wrapped in goat skin

Kadikoy market

Kadikoy is another neighborhood on the Asian side, reputed primarily for its excellent shopping.  The Kadikoy market is simply wonderful and sells everything from vegetables to dried eggplant for dolmas to cheese wrapped in goat skin (yes, that's cheese in that last picture.)  The famous Bagdat Caddesi in Kadikoy is a modern walking street lined with trendy stores and restaurants, perfect for a Sunday afternoon jaunt.  On the weekends, the beaches are packed with kids, dogs, and couples strolling hand in hand along the bright green park that meanders along the Bosphorous, with views onto the European side.

Sun setting over Hagia Sophia

Sun setting behind Hagia Sophia

And, when the sun sets over Sultanahmet, we don't feel like we're missing anything at all by spending our time in these other less frequented neighborhoods of Istanbul.


Susannah at Context Istanbul Ceylan Zere and bloggers
Context docent Context docent

Our Context Istanbul docents

While we spent a lot of time exploring Istanbul's neighborhoods on our own, we also visited Istanbul's neighborhoods with the docents at Context Travel. We went on four separate walks with them to explore Istanbul's neighborhoods (and one of those was a super fun tour with other bloggers), namely, the Cosmopolis walk on Istiklal Street , the Galata Nights walk , To Asia and Back Bosphorous walk , and the Markets of Istanbul walk.  Our favorites of the bunch were the Cosmopolis and the Galata Nights walks, both of which integrated history, food, and culture in two very neat areas of Istanbul (everything written about in this post came from the discussions with docents on these various walks).  I personally think that every new traveler to Istanbul should seriously consider one of these two walks to give a good orientation to the city and get grounded on how Turkey's long history has impacted its present culture.

* All of our walks with Context Travel were sponsored but, as always, every single opinion on this site is mine and mine alone (and sometimes Patrick gets a little bit of a say in what I'm going to write.)  If you're interested in why we accept sponsorships and how sponsorships impact this blog, head on over to this probably too long post all about making money blogging .

the colors of the spice bazaar

Spices at Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Spices at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

If you tuned into my post last week about our cooking class with Olga , you might have noticed the brilliant colors of Turkish cuisine.  In some food cultures, color is not particularly important --- for example, much of South Indian cuisine tends to be a muddy brown because of the importance of lentil.  But, in Turkey, color plays a critical role in the cuisine.  A purple eggplant will be grilled along with chocolate brown meat; the traditional dish of manti pairs tan pasta with white sour yogurt and brilliant red pepper oil; tomatoes are almost always peeled before cooking which gives many mezes a reddish tint; sweet mahogany figs are paired with white kaymak; and bright green purslane is chopped up and mixed with white yogurt.

So, it is no surprise that Istanbul's famous Spice Bazaar would tempt and bedazzle even a Crayola crayon namer.

Garlic powder Nuts and fruit at the Spice Bazaar
Spices at the Spice Bazaar Rose tea at the Spice Bazaar
Jasmine tea Turkish delight
Spices Silk-cut chile
Nuts at spice bazaar Nuts

A quick note on our Bilge, our Spice Girl, at Ucuzcular Baharat

Bilge One of the primary problems with Istanbul's Spice Bazaar is that many of the spice shops churn out cheap or low-quality spices to unsuspecting tourists.  This is why I highly recommend a stop at Ucuzcular Baharat , shop number 51 in the Spice Bazaar.  The family who owns Ucuzcular Baharat has been in the spice business for over 480 years --- at that time, the family worked in the Egyptian spice routes and took that knowledge with them to Istanbul.  In the early 1900s, a family member opened an herbalist shop in Istanbul and in subsequent decades, the family opened Ucuzcular Baharat in the Spice Bazaar.

Today, Bilge and her brother Ahmet run the store.  Bilge is a warm and enthusiastic woman, passionate about the spices that their store sells.  Every bin of ground spices has been ground within 24 hours in order to retain the freshness of the spices and they freeze-dry spices so that you can take them home with you.  Many of their spice combinations, such as Ottoman Spice and chicken spice, are old recipes handed down from her great-grandfather.  But, Bilge still experiments and she let us taste her newest creation: a spice rub to put on roasted potatoes.

This is the best part of her store: we walked in and she guided us through the huge variety of options, allowing us to taste many of the different combinations of spices.  Our favorite was the silk-cut chili flakes which melt on the tongue in an explosion of fiery chili hotness.  We left with freeze-dried packs of silk-cut chili flakes, sumac, and the quintessential Ottoman spice.

We only met Bilge once but we can highly recommend her store as a great place to learn about spices without being hassled, bothered, or pushed into buying things that you don't want.  We learned a lot in our all-too-brief visit with Bilge and know that we will visit her store again when we are next in Istanbul.

*Contact me if you want Bilge's e-mail address to ensure that she is at the store when you visit them.  Otherwise, you could always stop in and speak with whoever else is working there.

* We visited the Spice Bazaar and Bilge's shop while on a food tour with Context Istanbul .  Our tours with Context were sponsored but Bilge's shop is completely free and we received nothing to promote her excellent store.  (Actually, we probably spent too much money there because we were so impressed with her products.)

May 2012

delicious istanbul cooking class
May 31, 2012

April 2012

budapest great market hall in b&w
gray shaded market
April 6, 2012

March 2012

the undefeated dolac market
in zagreb
March 27, 2012

December 2011

costa rican cuisine
creating a pais marco
December 22, 2011