Monday, January 30, 2017

Board Game Review: Hanamikoji

Hanamikoji is the first game from the EmperorS4 Games publishing house in my collection. Christopher told me the designer's (Kota Nakayama) artwork was beautiful and so when he brought the game home for us to play, I was looking forward to the unboxing and reveal. As he opened the box and laid out the cards, I saw he was correct - the cards are absolutely perfect.



He thought I'd do well at the game since I generally ace most games of Battle Line that we play and he felt the basic elements were somewhat similar. In both games there is a race to capture object cards based on a bit of calculated projections and a fair bit of guesswork. In this case, the object cards are the lovely Geisha cards, numbered 2 through 5. Each card numbered 2 comes with two corresponding standard size cards with coordinating artwork, each card numbered 3 comes with three cards, and so on.

The mechanics of this area control game are deceptively simple - each player is dealt a starting hand of six cards and then you draw a card on your turn from the deck (one card is removed at the beginning of the game and set aside to increase the unknown variables) and then play one of four actions. You can exclude 2 cards from your hand from the game, save 1 card from your hand to reveal and play at the end of the game, choose 3 cards from your hand and offer them up to your opponent to immediately choose 1 to play on their side while you immediately play the remaining 2, or you can choose 4 cards from your hand and divide them into pairs and offer up the pairs to your opponent to immediately choose 1 pair to play on their side while you immediately play the remaining pair. That's it. Four actions, each done only one time by each player and then the game is over. A Geisha card is won by a simple majority of her corresponding standard cards laid on the winning player's side of the Geisha. When she is won, a round marker that has been resting on the center of her card is moved toward the edge of the card on the winning player's side. To win the game, a player must win four Geishas (out of seven) or score 11 points among the Geishas they have won (Geishas are worth their numerical value). If the game ends without anyone crossing these thresholds, the game is played again, but this time the round win markers are left in place from the last game and if a player wins a Geisha that was won the previous round by the opponent then the win marker is moved to the winning player's edge of the card as expected, but if the players tie for a Geisha it remains on the previous winner's edge.

While the mechanics are easy to explain, making quick and exacting decisions based on very limited information in order to pull off a win is anything but easy. Christopher noted that the only card from your hand that you can choose to definitively play is the one you hide for reveal and play at the end of the game. All other actions provide your opponent the chance to select the cards to play for both of you, injecting additional uncontrolled variables into the game and mucking up the direct follow through of what you might have willed. You can attempt to disrupt their selection by offering up cards you think will tempt them to make choices you prefer and by using the 2 throwaway cards to dismiss cards that might swing the game in their favor, but otherwise you are helpless.

It took me three consecutive games before I was able to formulate a winning strategy in the face of all the unknown variables. The first two games though? Trying to outsmart Christopher with such limited information available over a small set of choices gave me the kind of headache that only balancing chemistry equations did in college. I have a gift for divergent thinking and for anyone who approaches tasks similarly, games that focus on expanding options and creative moves bring out the best in us while games such as these that focus on narrowing down options based on a static set of known or unknown variables is a challenge. Still, it's good to be challenged intellectually, even if it is a bit frustrating at times.




The components for Hanamikoji are compact and travel easily in the 4 1/2 by 6 1/2 inch box they come in. All of these pieces are either sturdy cardboard cutouts or glossy paper cards which should hold up well to long term use (though not puppy or small child bent on destruction safe as I always like to note when applicable) The components carry the theme well.

Although this game is never going to be a favorite in my collection, the stunning artwork will lead me to bring it out every now and then when I want to sharpen my convergent thinking skills (it's a logic puzzle at heart).

----------------------------
Publisher: EmperorS4 Games
Players: 2
Actual Playing Time (vs any guidelines on the box): About 10 minutes
Game type: Hand Management, Area Control
Rating:
                                                                                                   


Jenni's Rating Scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: Cooking for Jeffrey, A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

This month, the cookbook discussion and dinner party group that I lead met to enjoy and discuss selections we cooked from Ina Garten's 2016 cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Clarkson Potter publishers).

(Menu)

Butternut Squash Hummus
Herbed Fromage Blanc

Lentil and Kielbasa Salad
Asparagus and Fennel Soup

Brisket with Leeks and Onions
Roasted Italian Meatballs
Roasted Ratatouille
Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Bourbon Honey Cake

I've flipped through many a Barefoot Contessa cookbook in my bookstore adventuring, but I'd never found a volume to be so compelling as to demand a purchase. I decided to go out on a limb and picked up Ina's newest release to give it a fair review, thinking with this many successful cookbooks under her belt there must be something to her recipes right? No publisher is going to keep giving you book contract after contract if your recipes fall flat.

I'm very glad I took the gamble; Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook provides page after page of tasty things to make in the kitchen and lovely pictures to accompany. As one of the dinner party guests mentioned, her recipes are well structured and very detailed, making them easy to follow for inexperienced cooks. She relies on ingredients that are relatively easy to source in American markets. And she has drawn from a great mix of ethnic influences for her recipes.

With regard to the recipes our group cooked and sampled, my favorite was the Asparagus and Fennel Soup, as well as the Ratatouille served over the Polenta, and the Lentil and Kielbasa Salad (which I never thought I'd enjoy and which has this unique but surprisingly delicious pairing as it is served over herbed goat cheese spread on crackers). Perhaps the only criticism I can muster for Ina's latest cookbook is that most of the recipes were seemingly oversalted, especially the hummus and the meatballs. Luckily our member chefs spotted the excess of salt and scaled it back during dinner prep, but if they had followed Ina's recipes as written it would not have been a happy ending. So go forth and Garten it up, but pull back on the salt.




Monday, October 31, 2016

Board Game Review: Brew Crafters

I'm already familiar with Dice Hate Me Games as I own a few games in their catalog. I hadn't yet played Brew Crafters and when it was suggested for me at Gen Con this year I wasn't sure after reading the box summary it would be a game for me because I don't know anything about beer. I don't drink it, I don't buy it, and nothing about processing beer sounded fun to me. But I have a reputation as an objective and thorough reviewer so I wasn't going to let a little thing like total lack of interest stand in my way.

I'm so glad I made that decision because you guys, YOU GUYS, this game is pretty nifty. It's not really about beer per se, it's about business and entrepreneurship. And I love doing business. I mean, sure, if you know a lot about beer, there's a rich layer of context here that you'll appreciate the way adults sitting beside their kids watching the Simpsons get all the jokes the kids can't possibly understand.  And I'm happy for you. Me, I'm content to get lost in the theme of running the best business and earning the best reputation. How a player does that exactly takes us right into the mechanics of the game...

This is a worker placement game with your workers being your market action meeples and your shift employees at your brewery. All players start off with two market action meeples and one shift of employees. Each season (spring, summer, fall, winter) i.e. round of the game sees all players completing market and brewery actions using their workers. Both types of actions directly or indirectly lead to gaining reputation points. There are four seasons in a year and there are three years in a game. At the conclusion of the third year, the player with the most reputation points wins the game.


Market actions are competitive, meaning if your workers stake the claim to a particular action, no other player's workers can do so that season. Brewery actions are not competitive; they can be selected by any player even if another player has already selected the same action. As the game progresses players can amass more workers to place by hiring additional market action meeples (interns) and additional brewery shifts. The market actions allow a player to make strategic business decisions such as developing partnerships to allow for conversions of raw ingredients; buying beer recipe ingredients; hiring skilled employees, interns, or additional shift workers to provide efficiency gains in future market or brewery actions; and raising cash. The brewery actions allow a player to choose from operational tasks such as selecting and brewing a type of beer (raises cash and provides for reputation points), installing new equipment to increase brewery efficiency, or conducting research to obtain special benefits. There are three basic beers that are used in every game and a variety of advanced beers that may be selected for brewing included in the game components; a subset of the advanced beers are chosen for each game, providing many possible combinations and great replay ability. There are also special reputation awards given to the first player who brews each kind of advanced beer during a game.


Layout of Beer Crafters

In most worker placement games, when you place your workers, you pay an opportunity cost to complete the transaction you've selected them to do. Brew Crafters turns this sequence on its head by requiring players to pay operational costs as the consequence of selected market actions (such as hiring skilled employees) and brewery actions (such as owning additional equipment) at the end of each winter season instead of when you take the actions. I like this clever twist because it give you the ability to take an action now and come up with the cash to pay for it one or two rounds later. If you don't have the money when it's time to pay, you have to take out business loans which cost you reputation points at the end of the game.

The components for Brew Crafters are legion (extra bonus points to the publisher for including a large quantity of small bags to store everything neatly). For example, there's market and brewery action boards, the season board, player brewery and research boards, the ingredient cubes, the workers (meeples and shifts), the skilled employee cards, the recipe cards, the reputation tokens, the money, the equipment cards. And let's not forget the 24 sets of adorable little six packs of beer tokens. All of these pieces are sturdy cardboard cutouts, glossy paper cards, or wooden objects and while they should hold up well to long term use, you wouldn't want to leave them alone with your small child or undisciplined puppy. Overall I found the artwork and components to carry the theme well.

I am very happy to add this game to my collection and I'll definitely bring it out on game night to introduce it to others as well. Enjoying this game as much as I did also means I'm going to put Viticulture on my play and review consideration list because I have been putting off playing that game for much of the same reasons (I don't drink wine).







----------------------------
Publisher: Dice Hate Me Games
Players: 2-5 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About an hour and a half
Game type: Worker Placement
Rating:
                                                                                                     


Jenni's Rating Scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Board Game Review: Islebound


Ryan Laukat has been designing board games since he was a teenager. He's the principal artist at Red Raven Games and his artwork is phenomenal. I had a chance to chat with Ryan at Gen Con 2016 and pick up a copy of his latest game - Islebound.

Even the box is gorgeous!

In Islebound, up to four players compete for renown (i.e. victory points) obtained through taking over ports through diplomacy or warfare, constructing or buying buildings, amassing cash, and completing in-game actions such as visiting ports or completing events. Our storyline is that each player is a seafaring captain, managing a crew aboard their ship and interacting with various port communities. It's a lovely theme.

The mechanics of the game are fairly straightforward and make sense within the constraints of Islebound's plotlines. They're well detailed in the accompanying rulebook and player summary cards are provided for easy reference during game play. I've played the game on two different evenings with two different sets of opponents and none of us had any trouble understanding the finer points of the rules nor were we left with any lingering questions.

In this area control game, in each round every player, one at a time, gets to choose from four standard actions (some of which grant the ability to immediately complete a second standard action) and then additionally may complete one or more of the "free" bonus actions. As soon as one player has constructed or bought their eighth building, the round is completed and the game ends. The player with the most renown at that point wins the game. Very simple rules, but the game does have some complexity in the details of the actions that may be performed and the ways in which they can be combined to generate renown.

Pictured here is the standard setup. Every player has a ship board where they keep their three starting crew members on deck, plus any additional crew they hire throughout the game. Players may use their crew members to do specific tasks and when they do so, they "exhaust" the crew member and put them below deck (directly below the active crew members) to rest. The shipboard also holds cargo - up to 10 fishes and/or wood planks. Additionally, I've got my cash resting on my ship board and all players have a speed track on the upper right of their ship board to record how fast their ship moves i.e. how many spaces they can move their ship across the sea board. Also shown in the picture is the main, shared board which holds the labor market of crew members that can be hired; the treasury chest where port tariffs to unowned ports are paid and treasure hunting is done (one of the standard actions during a round); the influence track where members place cubes to claim influence when instructed or remove cubes to use influence to take over a port community through diplomacy; the renown track (each time a player moves past the 6th space they claim a renown token worth 7 and also get the spoils listed on the token); the event deck that dictates the current events enabled that players may elect to complete if they're at the associated port; and the reputation deck that offers up rewards to be claimed if the minimum qualifications are met. The market of available buildings to construct or buy; the supplies of wood, fish, coins, and books to be used as directed; and the sea board itself which depicts the various port communities, their cost to attack or takeover through diplomacy, and their benefits offered to those who visit are also visible in the picture above.



 
Here's a closer shot of the beautiful sea board. Again, the artwork is just fantastic. The sea board is made up of several pieces and this allows for easier storage in the box as well as the option to flip over the pieces and change up the port communities and their benefits.






































Likewise, here's a better view of my ship board, my buildings, the building market, the supply of Serpent and Pirate cards (used when conquering ports through war), and the main board, from the first game of Islebound I played (Note:The Medusa dice tray - used to roll the Islebound dice in to determine if warfare is successful when attacking a port - is one of my pet projects and not part of the game components).

Look at the creative details on the crew members!

 Another nice touch Ryan has provided in Islebound is that all of the crew members have the backside of their card printed with expansion characters for one of Red Raven's other games called Above and Below. So when you purchase Islebound you are also gaining an expansion for that other game.

Everyone I've played Islebound with has had such a good time with the game. And in both games, the competition was close all way up through the very last round. This isn't a game that lends itself to a runaway leader.

One final comment on how beautiful this game is - during the last play through we were seated in a crowded public shopping center and many many people stopped by to comment on the visual appeal of the game and to ask questions about Islebound. I was delighted to recommend it to everyone who asked.

----------------------------
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Players: 2-4 (We played with 3 each time)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 2 hours
Game type: Area Control 
Rating: 
                                                                                                      


Jenni's Rating Scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game. 

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Board Game Review: Cosmic Pioneers




After chatting with the Vesuvius Media team at Gen Con 2016, Christopher and I selected Cosmic Pioneers as our first foray into this publisher’s game catalog. The artwork on the box is cute and cartoonish and it made me feel good about opening up the game to get a closer look at its components. 


The game pieces are a mix of cardboard cutouts (player boards, round track, planets), cards (for scenarios and alien events), and sturdy wooden objects (cubes – for place markers and to represent colonists; and figures – to represent aliens). These components are visually appealing and they tie into the game’s theme very well.






The plotlines and game objectives for Cosmic Pioneers are simple and entertaining: all players are in a race to colonize the selected planets of the Tau Ceti system, accumulating victory points (by settling and controlling planets as well as hoarding cash reserves) along the way. Hostile alien species as well as our fellow players seek to thwart our goal. At the end of 12 rounds, the player with the most victory points wins the game. The game offers variability in the plot through an abundance of planets and aliens to select from in setting up each game as guided by the scenario cards, so there is a lot of replay ability built in.



So far so good – quirky playful artwork, well themed components, and engaging plotline. That’s why I was so sad to find that as soon as we got into the mechanics of the game, things started to fall apart.

Getting an adequate handle on game mechanics is usually achieved through reading a game’s rulebook and then referring to reminder/summary cards kept handy during play. Not possible with Cosmic Pioneers.  There are no summary cards available and the rulebook is sparse therefore confusing in its lack of information. Here are just a few examples of unanswered questions we had during our play through:

  • When landing at the Jumpgate (think of this as a home base of sorts), a player may dispose of unwanted cargo from their ship’s cargo hold (be it aliens, opponent’s colonists, player’s colonists, or goods). Does the disposed cargo go onto the Jumpgate tile or back into reserves?
  • When landing at the Jumpgate, players may also load as many colonists onto their ship as they can fit into their available cargo slots. Are these colonists limited to the subset of what was dumped off on the Jumpgate before? Or do we pull from reserves so that even if none of our colonists were ever dropped off at the Jumpgate before we can still fill our cargo hold?

  • At the beginning of the game all players begin on the Jumpgate. Does this mean each player begins the game with colonists in their cargo?

  • The rules say when in the Adventure phase of the game, upon landing on a planet, if a player rolls a dice combo that allows for it they may place colonists from their reserves on the planet. This would imply they don’t need to come from the player’s ship cargo hold. In fact another separate phase of each round is the Deployment Phase within which players may unload/load ship cargo (which includes life forms) so it seems likely that taking colonists from the reserve pool (vs the cargo hold) is for initial planet settlement while taking colonists from the cargo hold is for moving colonists from one planet to another.  But if this were true and planet settlement through the Adventure phase comes from the reserves, then why did they build in the step to load colonists onto our ships whenever we land on the Jumpgate?

  • The rulebook has no mention of players beginning the game with any cash yet the example picture on page four of the book shows each player starting with 300 in cash. It cannot be a result of the scenario card selected because the scenario card featured in the picture clearly says players begin this particular scenario with 500 in cash. So do players start the game with cash and if so how much?

  • During the Adventure phase, certain die rolls require a player to remove X number of colonists from a planet. For at least one of the planets, X is greater than the number of slots total on the planet making the action nonsensical. Are we missing something or did the designer not think this through? Here’s an example:



Notice that for a dice roll of 2 or 3, the player is supposed to remove five of their colonists from the planet. Five! On a planet that can only hold 3 lifeforms total (one slot is currently taken by an alien).








Already frustrated with these unanswered questions and die roll result nonsensical instructions, Christopher did a 1-800-NOPE out of this game halfway through when he found my character card to be too unfairly tilted in my favor. I had selected Captain Fraser, whose special ability is that she can kill off other player’s colonists and aliens taking up slots on a planet if the planet is full. Normally a player can only place their colonists on empty spots on a planet and so for a fully settled planet they’d need to attempt to bomb lifeforms off the planet first which involves dice rolling and luck). He grew pretty irritated watching me visit every planet he had fully colonized and removing his colonists and replacing them with my own. 

I’m disappointed that Cosmic Pioneers is rather unplayable in its current configuration. The good news is that the game has some great foundations (nice artwork, good plot) and could probably be rendered playable pretty easily with some thoughtful editing of the game mechanics and rulebook by the designer. If that should happen in a future edition, I’d definitely be willing to take another shot at playing the game.     
----------------------------
Publisher: Vesuvius Media


Players: 2-4 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 30 minutes
Game type: Area Control
Rating:



Jenni’s rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
 OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game. OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
 NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.






Friday, October 21, 2016

Board Game Review: Legends of Andor


The man was very excited to bring home Legends of Andor for us to play. So excited in fact that he went ahead and purchased the Star Shield expansion before we’d even had a chance to play the base game. The plotlines for Andor go something like this: the security of your kingdom relies on you cooperatively completing quests as you move throughout the land (i.e. around the board) and encounter creatures hell bent on invading the castle. You’ll never be able to stop all of the creatures from invading the castle but you must keep your eye on how many you allow through, because any more than the maximum permitted and you lose the game immediately. Fending off the creatures involves rolling dice to score higher than they do to defeat them (you also roll dice on behalf of the creatures). I’m all about kings and queens and defending noble castles so as we unpacked the game I held high hopes for the potential levels of joy Andor would bring me.

The artwork for this game is well drawn and quite beautiful. The board is expansive with a soft palette of colors that pulls you into the storyline. There are a lot of game pieces of varying types and sizes that come with this game - mostly cardboard figures to be slotted into plastic holders for standing upright on the game board. While the pieces are also well drawn, they are of average construction so you’ll need to keep them away from toddlers and pets who could easily rip or destroy the components.



The game designers provide a quick start guide they instruct you to follow for the first game in order to learn the mechanics of play. They make it a point to ask you NOT to read the full manual until you’ve played through the first game using the quick start guide. That made for quick setup and getting into the game without having to pour through a half hour of instructions to understand every nuance. Even after completing the first scenario (which are referred to as legends) and getting into the meatier rules book, I found the game mechanics easy to grasp and follow. A heavy euro game this is not; play flows pretty smoothly.


While the game is easy to understand and has great theming, as we played through the game, tackling the starting legend and then the first and second standard legends, the low points of its mechanics design caught my attention. It’s a cooperative game, which in and of itself is not a negative (although I strongly prefer cooperative games layered with a bonus structure or otherwise competitive rewarding subsystem for the individual players) but it doesn’t have the necessary safeguards in place to discourage stronger willed teammates from pushing their fellow players to do their bidding and effectively using them to play solitaire. It was a constant struggle with the man as he pushed for me to HERE or HERE or fight this creature with him instead of doing the things I wanted to prioritize. Give me a game where we can divide and conquer and I fight a monster and you fight a monster, over a game where we both have to fight the same monster together to win. Please.
My other design criticism of the game is admittedly a petty one but nonetheless it targets a visual element that really grates on my nerves. In Andor, you have seven hours as a player to complete tasks before the day begins again. You start on the sunrise space, i.e. 0, and each time you take an action you advance to the next hour’s space. When you hit the 7th hour space, it represents the end of the day and you are finished. Which means you go back to the sunrise box (normally; there are exceptions that let you go into overtime for an 8th hour or beyond). Below is a picture of the time track.

You can see that there is a little arrow at the end of the 7th hour space that curves back around to the sunrise space. In practice what this means is that you move your token to the 7th hour space after taking your 7th action and it is immediately the end of your day, so you move your token back to the sunrise space. Which makes the 7th hour space pointless. Since reaching the 7th hour ends your day, it would make much more sense to have the arrow curve back to the sunrise box from the 6th hour.
I will continue to play this game as well as the expansion in order to work through all of the quests and hopefully as the man and I move through the game we can master cooperation in addition to the game.
----------------------------

Publisher: Kosmos

Players: 2-4 (We played with 2)

Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes per Legend

Game type: Area Movement, Cooperative

Rating:
Jenni’s rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.  

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.




Sunday, July 3, 2016

Apartment Tour



It's been a few months since I moved into my new apartment in Alexandria. I put together a little tour of the place for my friends and family who are far flung across the globe. 

https://www.facebook.com/jenniparks/videos/10154216725089740/

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Cookbook Review: Modern Flavors of Arabia

I’ve started a cookbook discussion and dinner party group that meets regularly (1x a month or so) at my apartment in Alexandria to discuss cookbooks and enjoy a shared meal cooked by the members from recipes published in the monthly selected cookbook.  

Each year we work our way through an eclectic mix of cookbooks, including time honored classics, rare finds from every corner of the globe, and current up and coming advanced evaluation copies.

For our July cookbook discussion and dinner party, we reviewed Suzanne Husseini's 2012 cookbook Modern Flavors of Arabia (Random House).

قائمة طعام (Menu)

Halloumi & Feta Cheese Bread Rolls
Labneh Three Ways
Shamandar (Beet Dip)
Hummus
Beet & Purslane Salad with Citrus Dressing
Kofta with Sweet and Sour Cherry Sauce
Roasted Cauliflower with Citrus Tahini Sauce
Lemony Braised Stuffed Vine Leaves
Shish Barak (Lamb Ravioli in Herbed Yogurt Sauce)
A Thousand and One Nights Pistachio Ice Cream
Arabic Shortbread (Ghraybe)
Rice Pudding with Date Compote
Mint tea






The table is set in preparation for the guests’ arrival.













Pistachio Ice Cream and Arabic Shortbread






This might be the first time in all of my years of cooking and reviewing cookbooks that I’ve sampled twelve different recipes from a cookbook and found every single one to be on point. I give the beet dip a solid 5 (out of 5) fork rating AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE BEETS. The Kofta were tender and the cherry sauce to accompany them was another highlight of the menu. Oh my gosh, and the cheese rolls, they were amazing. Tender, pillowy, and warm, they hid the perfect little tangy bite of cheese within. The grape leaves were savory and bright with the citrus flavor. Every single dish was hit. Husseini clearly has some kind of culinary magic up her sleeves. And I wasn’t alone in my assessment; Paige was so taken with the shortbread that she lost her capacity for coherent speech and just kept moaning as she nibbled through her serving of cookies.

This is definitely a cookbook that has earned a permanent space on my bookshelves in the kitchen and I urge to you pick up Modern Flavors of Arabia to add to your collection as well. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Trip Report: Turkey 2012

To round out my 2012 travels and push my Delta miles beyond the Diamond threshold, I dashed off on a quick weekend mistake fare trip to Madrid (where I stayed in the hotel nearly the entire time ordering room service while I was bogged down with work and studying), enjoyed another weekend spa getaway to Las Vegas (lounged by the pool most of the time and sampled some of the high end restaurants on the strip), and then ventured into Turkey for a long weekend. 

This was my second trip to Turkey and so on the first day, I set about revisiting all the spots in Istanbul I'd fallen in love with on the last trip.  That meant, of course, a visit to Cemberlitas Hamami on the European side of Istanbul (not far from the Blue Mosque) for a relaxing scrub and massage. This little slice of heaven is, hands down, my favorite place in Istanbul to recharge after a long flight from the Americas. I also spent some quality time in the spice market, picking up more Turkish Delight than is probably necessary as well as apple tea and other goodies. 

Having found a stay in the historic section of old Istanbul a bit inconvenient (not many good restaurants nearby and no nightlife) and overpriced on my last visit, I opted to stay at the Doubletree Modena in Kadikoy this time around. It's on the Asian side of Istanbul and very modern. It boasts a fantastic breakfast spread, affordable hotel pricing, and a dozen or more tasty restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood. It's become my go-to place to stay whenever I'm in the city. To get to the hotel you just take the tram from the airport down to the Sirkeci stop and then cross the street and take the ferry (1 Turkish Lira) from Eminonu to Kadikoy. It's an easy 15 minute ferry ride. 

I popped in and out a handful or gourmet shops in Kadikoy (picked up some rose petal jam!) before I took a flight into Izmir. Izmir is a bustling, touristy seaside town but it's relatively quiet in the winter. I was only in the city to pick up a rental car and transfer to Ephesus so I didn't do much exploring beyond grabbing a bite to eat. 

I was so excited to take in the ruins of Ephesus. It's a city of key importance in Christian history and its first inhabitants date back to the Bronze Age. It's location has moved around within the region a few times (due to geographical/weather troubles, disease, and politics) but it's always been a notable community. The city rose to become one of the wealthiest Greek communities and the Temple of Artemis (Greek goddess) was constructed within it during that time of prosperity. The city passed to Persian rule, then was liberated and ruled by Alexander the Great's men, before coming under Roman rule through a bequest of a will. As we know from biblical accounts, Ephesus was visited by Christian missionaries many many times in its last chapter of vibrancy. What you may not know from those accounts is that the strong and successful campaign to convert the community to Christianity is what ultimately led to its descent into ruin. Prior to conversion, the city's educated townspeople (both men and women enjoyed freedom to learn) made a handsome living off the sale of worship paraphernalia associated with Artemis. Once Christianity took hold (and took hold in a big way as Paul spent three years here, Ephesus was designated the head of the seven churches in Asia minor, the city hosted Christian councils in the 5th century, and the gospel of John is thought to have been written here), the making of craven images was banned, the beautiful temple of Artemis was destroyed by Christian activists, and the revenue from the Artemis worship tourism industry dried up. At the same time, the advances in women's rights the city could previously boast of were rolled back as women were barred from working independently or teaching men. The city's only saving grace toward maintaining its prominence outside of Christian theology was its role as a sea port and when the river silted up in the 14th century that came to an end as well. Thus is the history of the spectacular city brought to its knees by Christianity. 

Here's a visual tour of my favorite buildings.


The stadium where the silversmiths were led into a near riot over the potential loss of idol making revenue as described in Acts 19:23-41.

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.
32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people.34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

      



Hadrian's Temple



Main Street



Beautiful arches


 The Library of Celsus