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Sylvia Catala Karabay

Sylvia Catala Karabay was born in 1929 in Brooklyn, New York to a German mother and a French/Spanish Catalan father. Sylvia’s mother was a governess in affluent homes staffed with cooks, so she never learned how to cook and never taught her daughter Sylvia how to cook, either. After graduating high school, Sylvia attended New York City’s Katherine Gibbs School earning her diploma in 1948. Her first “Gibbs Girl” job was in the city as the secretary to a dashing Turk, Vecihi Karabay, president of a company representing American corporations in Turkey.

It was love at first sight and the following year they married and moved to New York City where the young couple dined out most of the time in New York’s host of eateries. After a year and a half, they moved to Turkey where Vecihi also had offices. The ingredients of a family cookbook began with contributions from her staff of cooks, worldly friends and her mother-in-law’s translation of old Turkish recipes. Dinner parties were a constant, and in 1955, Sylvia had the first of her three children.

In 1961, Vecihi retired from his business and the family moved back to New York City. (Everyone should retire to an island, and Manhattan in the 60’s was a fantastic one!) With no cooks in tow, a family of growing children and a dinner party pace that never slacked, Sylvia tackled and cultivated the art of cooking with an ersatz staff: “sous chef” Vecihi chopping, dicing, slicing and peeling to perfection, and three “wait staff” children pitching in with polishing silver, setting the table, printing place cards and serving hors d’oeuvre with grace and glee during cocktail hour.

Later years took the family to Lausanne, Switzerland and La Jolla, California where more recipes were collected from new friends and old recipes honed. In 1978, with the youngest child finishing college, Sylvia and Vecihi packed up their home to embark on a “free at last” European escapade. During this time, Sylvia sorted and assembled the family’s favorite recipes and presented each of her children with her very own cookbook.

Their European adventure lasted almost two years when they decided to move to Florida, where the party pace renewed. In 2004, yet a new chapter began when they moved to the Northwest to be near their children. Vecihi spent the last two years of his life here in Portland, and now Sylvia continues to host the occasional dinner party with her delicious international specialties

Sylvia’s menu is as international as she is…born in New York to French and Spanish parents, lived in Turkey, Switzerland, New York, La Jolla, Palm Beach (?) and Portland!

Lunch

Spanish Chicken

slow-cooked braised chicken with onions, red & green peppers, tomatoes, sherry, dried grapes & niçoise olives, served with  rice pilaf

Dinner

Swedish Meatballs

delicious “Strawberry Mountain” beef meatballs in a creamy sauce, served with house made egg noodles

Spanish Chicken

slow-cooked braised chicken with onions, red & green peppers, tomatoes, sherry, dried grapes & niçoise olives, served with  rice pilaf & sautéed spinach

Carbonnades de Boeuf a la Flamande (Beef Braised in Beer)

slow-cooked “Cascade Natural” Beef with sautéed onions and Stella Artois beer, served with smashed red potatoes & glazed baby carrots

Dessert

Cherry Clafouti

a custard-like baked French dessert made by baking cherries and a batter, somewhat similar to pancake batter, in a baking dish.  Originally from Limousin, spreading throughout France during the 19th century

Special Sip

Sangria

red wine macerated with lemons, limes, oranges & brandy, served on the rocks