Setur Marina Kusadasi

What’s Turkey like in winter – part one

Is it cold in Turkey in winter? The short answer is yes. There is a longer answer, so please read on.

Most people are shocked by their first winter in Turkey, they have a moved to a country they probably knew in summer when it melts or in spring when it blooms or in autumn when the Indian summer runs and runs and runs on through a glowing October into sunlit November. January can be rather a surprise after all that heat. Particularly as the kind of houses most expats buy aren’t really designed for winter living and have all the insulation properties of a wet paper bag and the kind of wide open plan living layout that is a horror to heat in winter.

Yes it can get flipping cold in Turkey; last year my swimming pool had a skim of ice on it five times, two weeks ago my geraniums froze in a sudden frost and are now black and drooping and I’ll have to cut them back and my bougainvillea, that had bravely bloomed on into January, now has bleached papery blossoms and curled crispy leaves as the wind chill hit it hard.

But, and there is a but, our winters are short and those cold days are tempered with warm sunny spring type spells that remind you why you live here and you throw open the windows to let the heat in and you get out and about and do things and still enjoy it all, from valley walks to winter diving to keeping the garden under control.

I like having seasons, I find it stimulating, because every season brings something new and special and I think living with that naturally fluctuating temperature is actually good for you. If the cold does actually penetrate our thick stone walls then I put another jumper on and at night I snuggle down under my duvet with my best friend – the good old fashioned hot water bottle! It’s sort of comforting.

If you are interested in scuba diving there are more pictures of our winter diving here – Winter Diving in Kusadasi

That was the season that was – we’re all on wind down in October

“How was the season for you?” I ask Bora, a friend in Kusadasi.

He smiles widely, “For me it was good.” He says, “For me it was a very nice season.”

“You’re the first person apart from me I’ve heard say that!” I tell him, because basically, this October, most people I speak to in the restaurants and shops have been moaning about how bad a season it has been.

“Ahh” says Bora, “If you spend 2 million lira over the winter on credit and only make 1 million lira during the season then for you it will have been a bad season. But like I say, for me it was very nice!”

I guess it’s true, it’s an expectation thing and a need thing and a balance thing and those in the tourist trade, like farmers, are fond of a pessimistic approach. Like Bora we too in Kirazli had a nice season. Despite having our first insane guest (don’t ask, it was horrible but it had to happen one day!) we had a lovely season and the studio was booked from March through until end of October and the people were fun and interesting and stopped Nick and I from being isolated but reminded us why we stay here because “outside” sounds really weird!

However, Bora works in car hire and we, in renting out the studio, appeal to independent travellers and perhaps it is just this section of the market that feels good. Those whose livelihood has been hit by the all inclusive hotels (restaurants) and tourists who won’t spend a lot on gifts and souvenirs (shops) due to the recession in their home countries are clearly having a harder time of it.

I’ve stopped trying to find a pattern in the tourist season. Last year we had mainly Canadians and Australians passing through and we were busiest in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, this year has been mainly American and Indian guests and high summer was packed. The only commonality I see is that independent travel to Turkey remains strong and the timeless fascination of the ruins at Ephesus and the broad appeal and beauty of the Aegean region routes the independent and footloose through here as they tour this great big fascinating country in easy stages.

Now the season is winding down and the beautiful peaceful days of Autumn are here and the laundry is less and the countryside is still inviting and the sea is still warm and you can hear a collective sigh issuing from the expats and residents of the main resorts as they quietly reclaim their home territory.

This is my favourite time of year, I have more time and I have more inclination to get out and about because it’s so perfect even I can’t stay inside. The light is just wonderful and so I photograph everything because is all looks so good. This is the time of leisurely breakfasts in the mountains, long warm days on the sea and the pleasant cool of autumn nights where I sleep with the windows wide open and the stars burn with a particular ferocity. It is also the time of harvest gifts from the neighbours, daily deliveries of different varieties of grapes and every rooftop in the village is patterned with bright squares of peppers, grapes and figs drying in the sun.

October, definitely the best time to live here, be here, visit here. Enjoy!

By the way, please don’t think that this area shuts down at the end of October, 68,000 people live in Kusadasi alone without counting Selcuk, Soke, Aydin and the few million souls in Izmir, we’re not exactly into feral foraging for food once the charter flights from the UK stop! All the best restaurants stay open and even out here in Kirazli valley the sofrasi are open every day, they may close early of an evening if nobody turns up but in the towns normal service continues amongst all but the very specifically tourist haunts. Even my favourite fish and chip shop is open on market days in Kusadasi, Wednesday and Friday 🙂 All the main attractions like Ephesus are open all day every day so whilst the main tourist season has passed the best of the year is yet to come.

If you are interested in owning an income generating property in a village in Turkey please see our new project at House Elements

mascerated cherries

Baked Cherry Cheesecake

Fresh Kirazli cherries mascerated in brown sugar and almond essence
I haven’t done a recipe for ages, let’s do a recipe!

It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, I just haven’t been writing down what I have been cooking and Nick has been inhaling everything as soon as I make it – honestly you’d rather keep him for a week than a fortnight as my Gran used to say. We’re also really busy with guests and a big new building project (More coming soon on that!) which is taking loads of research as it is green as well as traditional.

The cherry season has just finished here in Kirazli and whilst the start of the picking was poor due to unseasonal rain that left the cherries soggy and short lived the tail end of the season produced a bumper crop and we were up to our eyeballs in cherries again. Having done the usual cherry cake, cherry clafoutis, cherry pie and forced kilos of fresh cherries on our guests I decided to try something new and combined a couple of recipes and a cooking method I saw on Australian Masterchef (much love to new season of the show!) to make this baked cherry and almond cheesecake. It’s really rich, it’s really lovely and although it’s a bit fiddly in the cooking process it isn’t exactly arduous and people love it.

Baked Cherry Cheesecake

Base
150 grams plain biscuits (I used the Suisse tea biscuits you get everywhere here and are really crispy but any plain light biscuit will do)
50 grams walnuts,
2 tablespoons honey
100 grams melted butter.

You know the drill, therapeutically smash walnuts and biscuits with rolling pin to make a crumb. Melt the honey and the butter together. Mix in the crumb and press into spring form tin. I press it down hard and then polish the top with the back of a spoon (just like we float concrete!) to make it stronger and less likely to get soggy.

Cheescake mix
2 x 300g packs full-fat soft cheese
200 grams sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
3 large eggs
100ml natural yoghurt
100grams curd cheese, ricotta if you have it or block lor if you are in Turkey.
400 grams pitted fresh cherries which have been mascerated in brown sugar and almond essence for an hour or so
Handful of almonds flakes (or lumps if I’ve sliced them!)

Whisk the cream cheese until it is soft, add the sugar and almond essence, whisk in the eggs one by one then add the flour and ground almonds and finally the yoghurt and curd cheese.
Pour cherries on top of the biscuit base, pour cake batter on top.

Cooking

Slow stages of cooking make this baked cheesecake
What we’re aiming for is a creamy, rich cheesecake that shrinks away from the sides of the tin and holds its shape yet is still luscious in the middle, hence this weird cooking strategy which stops the cake from cracking on the top and being overcooked. It feels like not enough cooking but honestly it works.
Given the temperatures we have here at the moment I could probably have cooked this just by covering it with clingfilm and putting it by the side of the poll but here’s the oven method.

First cook the cheesecake for ten minutes at 200c, then reduce the oven temperature to 110c and scatter almond flakes over the top and cook for a further 40 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside with the door closed for one hour then leave it for a further hour with the oven door wedged open with a spoon. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature for an hour before putting in the fridge overnight.

Slow baked Cherry Cheesecake
I have been known to skip the overnight fridge step as Nick and some of our guests prefer the cheesecake with the centre still warm enough to melt the bucket of cream you pour over it!

Even if I am not writing about it food is still a massive part of our life here. Not just the cooking of it but the thinking of it and the talking of it and the making the best use of it.

The other week we were visited by Ian Parmentier, Australian celebrity cook who presented Consuming Passions, he was interviewing us for a piece he was doing for Selector Magazine about his food and wine travels in Turkey. We found we shared the same attitudes to food, we’re passionate about it, we really love feeding people but also there is a moral and intellectual side to it all; we hate waste and we understand that working with seasonal foods whilst brilliant is sometimes hard and you have to try harder to make the most of what you are given, just like our Turkish neighbours do.

There are times when I think I just can’t face another cherry and when Ahmet, bless his generous heart, turns up not with a bowl but a bucket full cherries I think “What the hell am I going to make now?” But you think of things, because to waste is to deny the year of work that went into nurturing them and coming up with something new to give to the people around you is like making Christmas every day.

Worlds apart, hemispheres apart, people who are passionate about food share the same attitude, we cook because we love the ingredients and we love to feed people which is why we’ll spend four hours fiddling with a cheesecake 🙂