From the category archives:


5 Minutes through the Middle East

by Keith on December 29, 2009 · 4 comments

As Amy and I have wrapped up 2 months in the Middle East we put together a 5 minute slide show of some of our favorite pictures and added witty captions.  We posted this to our Facebook Fan page more than a week ago, so if you are on Facebook be sure to become a fan so you get the latest updates.  If you are not on Facebook be sure to sign up for email alerts or the RSS feed in the side bar to the right.

Enjoy the video and let us know what you think.  We will try and do one of these every couple of months, especially if we get a good response to this one…


Choosing to Use the Sun

by Keith on December 24, 2009 · 2 comments

Solar Hot Water - Turkey

Upon arriving in Turkey or Israel, you quickly realize there is something different about nearly every roof in these countries: they all have solar hot water units.  Most amazing is that it does not seem to matter if the building is a small two-room house in a remote area or a massive apartment complex in downtown Istanbul.  Once I started to notice solar hot water units in Turkey, I began looking for them as we traveled throughout the Middle East. I found that the nearly universal presence of solar hot water units in Turkey and Israel contrasts strikingly with other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, where I saw almost no solar hot water units.  Digging into the matter more, two overriding and linked factors seem to drive the difference between universal use of solar hot water and the complete absence of the technology:

  • Policies that create financial incentives for households to invest in energy efficient technologies; and
  • Wide availability of affordable, energy efficient technologies for consumers.

The lack of meaningful policies and financial incentives is at the root of the lack of the utilization of solar technologies in Egypt.  When I asked Ahmed Abdelrehim of CEDARE in Cairo about the absence of solar hot water units in Egypt, he answered without hesitation that the reason there is almost no solar hot water in Egypt, despite laws in the Mediterranean resort areas requiring it, is that electricity is subsidized.  This removes the financial incentive for households to invest in solar hot water systems because they have higher upfront costs.  The Egyptian electricity subsides are a way to help create a social safety net for the 32.4 million poor people in Egypt*.  And despite recent pressure from the World Bank to reduce the subsidy and increase peak-hour electricity costs, the political will is lacking for swift action.  As a result, more buildings are built without integrated solar technologies and Egyptian consumers continue to purchase inefficient electric hot water heaters.

Solar Hot Water - Israel

Widespread availability of low-cost consumer solar systems is a major factor leading to increased use of solar hot water in Turkey and Israel.  In talking with people in both countries, I learned that high-end consumer solar systems were available for less than 800 Euros ($1,150).  And there are many solar options that cost even less.  After searching, and for “solar hot water” and returning zero relevant results, I am not surprised that the American consumer would think that installing a personal solar hot water system is a complicated and expensive proposition, and, even with the availability of a federal tax credit, for most Americans it is much more expensive.  I did a search for the cost of a residential unit in the US and found that units “… cost only $6,000 to $8,000 installed depending on the area.”  This was according to  Even with the tax credit, the low-end cost estimate is still $4,500 for a US household, significantly more than what Turkish consumers are paying for a high end system.  Low cost consumer units are available in the rest of the world, and with a change in the US energy policy to increase demand (and thus lower prices even further), I am confident that retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes would begin selling millions of them to US consumers.

So why is this such a critical issue for the US?  In Adam Werbach’s A Strategy for Sustainability, he illustrates the potential impact of “green” products such as TIDE® COLDWATER® Detergent.  He states, “…if every American changed to cold-water laundry, it would go a long way toward reaching the CO2 reduction commitment that the U.S. negotiators made (although never ratified by the Senate) in the Kyoto Protocol, the first global compact on climate change.”

While the efforts of companies like P&G are admirable and are making a significant difference, I take a different view from Werbach that is more consistent with a recent article in the Washington Post by Mike Tidwell.  Recently, I’ve come to believe that we cannot simply “small step” or consume enough “green” products to drive the quick and significant change we need to limit the impacts of catastrophic climate change.  We need meaningful policies that will quickly create the personal financial incentives for US households to change behavior and increase their own energy efficiency.  With the right incentives in place, the creativity of green entrepreneurs all over the world would be unleashed to meet the new demand for more sustainable and energy efficient technologies.  And if we do not have the political will at the national level, I am hopeful that there seems to be progress at the local level, as evidenced by the Conference of Mayors 77th Annual Meeting in Providence (RI).

Despite the less than stellar progress in Copenhagen over the last two weeks, I am hopeful that the US will make the necessary policy changes to become the leader in sustainable and energy efficient technologies that we have the potential to become.  I would hate to see countries like Turkey, Israel, Germany and even China (a leader in consumer solar hot water) eclipse us.

*Nawar, Abdel-Hameed, “From Marina to Kom-Ombo: A Note on Poverty in Egypt,” Cairo University, manuscript, August 2007.


The Food of Turkey

by Keith on November 11, 2009 · 6 comments

This post is all about the food of Turkey.  In some ways eating has been the biggest change for Amy and I on the trip so far.  At home we would go out to eat maybe once or twice a week.  For the last month we have eaten out for nearly every meal, and done no real cooking.  The closest we have come to cooking is mixing cereal and yogurt in our room for breakfast. I know you all have been wondering about the cuisine and variety of foods that Amy and I have been sampling for the last month so I will detail the gastronomic delights we enjoyed while in Turkey below.

Cezayir InsideIf there were two words to summarize the cuisine of Turkey it would have to be grilled meat.  There is very little fault I can find with a country that likes to grill meat on skewers, over open flames or even cook it in a pot for 6 hours.   In Istanbul the best food we had was at Cezayir near Taksim Square the center of modern Istanbul.  The ambiance was excellent, as seating was outside in a beautiful courtyard Cezayir Steakpatio under the stars.  While we were some of the first people to arrive at 7pm, the restaurant did fill up by 8:30.  Amy had pasta with wild mushrooms and green onion; my dish was strips of grilled filet mignon over a base of Greek-style yogurt and grilled bread.  The filet was excellent, very tender, and the bread and yogurt base was creamy with a slightly smoky flavor from being grilled.  The long grilled green pepper on the plate is a very common side in Turkey and was quite sweet.

All of our lodging in Turkey included a traditional Turkish breakfast.  And while there was some variety it generally included a hard-boiled egg, bread, jam, butter, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese.  In short, delicious and heart healthy!  The picture below is the buffet style breakfast that we had while staying at the White Garden Pension in Antalya.  Served from 8-10 every morning, breakfast also included Turkish tea or Nescafe coffee.  Generally the tea was our choice of caffeinated beverage.

Breakfast Buffet

Lamb KebapNo post of Turkish food would be complete without mention of the kabob, known in Turkey as the kebap.  Kebaps are by far the most prevalent form of grilled meat in Turkey.  These two chicken and lamb kebaps are from a restaurant in the old city of Antalya.  Kebaps in Turkey come in three basic incarnations: chicken, lamb and kafta, which is a spicy meatball.  Chicken KebapAll are quite good and are a good budget choice for lunch or an affordable dinner.  One quick note on the fresh vegetables and salad pictured here.  We had received advice to not eat fresh vegetables from our travel doctor at Penn Travel Medicine.  His rule was if you couldn’t cook it, peel it, or boil it – forget it.  In practice we found that all of the fresh vegetables in Turkey were quite safe and delicious.  I think if you use some common sense and only eat fresh vegetables or salads at restaurants that are clean and crowded you will be just fine in Turkey.

Turkish NachosOne surprisingly delicious non-Turkish meal was the Turkish nachos at Fat Boys Café and Bar.  Amy and I stopped in there one night after a long day of hiking through the valleys around Goreme.  On a whim I decided that I would order the nachos.  My expectations were pretty low but when the plate below appeared at the table I was pleasantly surprised.   The chips were spicy and not dissimilar from Doritos, but the toppings are what made the dish.  Topped with beans, tomatoes, green onion, cheese and a Bulgarian-style yogurt, the whole dish was broiled to bubbly goodness.  I would recommend them to anyone spending time in Goreme and looking for a break from traditional Turkish food.

I will end this post on one of the best meals I had in Turkey.  In Cappadocia they have a special kebap, the Desti Kebap.  This is a special dish that is cooked in a clay pot for 6 hours.  You have to order it ahead of time and when you arrive they bring it to your table and in a bit of a table-side show use a hammer to crack open your dinner.

Desti Kebap Opening

Desti Kebap - ChickenDesti Kebap - MeatAmy had a chicken and I had a meat desti kebap.  Meat generally means lamb in Turkey, but this may have been a mixture of lamb and beef.  Either way it was delicious, extremely flavorful and moist.

The accompaniment of yogurt with Turkish spices on top was not only beautiful but a perfect dip for the fresh bread and a little of the pickled pink cabbage.Yogurt

I found the food in Turkey to be quite good.  My one complaint is that there is somewhat of a limited range of flavors.  Breaking up traditional Turkish meals with a Turkish influenced western dish like the nachos easily solves the flavor monotony.    Let’s hear your thoughts, what else do you want to know about food?  For those that have been to Turkey, what’s your favorite Turkish food?