31 January 2007

Bok Choi

We had bok choi for dinner since I've found a good local source for baby bok choi now (the huge heads at regular grocery stores are well, nasty). Here's a recipe that's close to the one I used. (I used a recipe from Seductions of Rice. You should buy this cookbook.)

1 pound young bok choy
2 tablespoons homemade chicken broth
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 plus 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 ginger slices
1 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

Separate the bok choy into stalks. Wash bok choy in several changes of cold water and allow to thoroughly drain in a colander. Trim 1/4-inch from the bottom of each stalk. Halve each stalk lengthwise and cut bok choy into 2-inch-long pieces. In a bowl combine the broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce, tapioca starch, and sugar.

Heat a wok over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil and ginger, and stir-fry for 10 seconds, or until ginger is fragrant. Add remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, bok choy, and garlic, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until leaves are just limp and bok choy is bright green. Restir the broth mixture and swirl into wok.

Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly and lightly coats the vegetables. Serve immediately.

"I Have a Little Sailboat"

Does anyone remember "I Have a Little Sailboat? I've looked online to find out where this song came from (or just if I'm singing it right) and I can't find anything about this one. I've found others that I remember from when I was little, but not this one.

30 January 2007

New PM in Kyrgyzstan

The Jorgoku Kenesh approved Azim Isabekov today as Prime Minister. Handy for Bakiev. It looks like despite the concessions Bakiev made a few months ago that he has managed to further cement his power. He's proving to be quite adept at staying in power.

I'm wondering what will happen to the tandem agreement. Will Isabekov be operating under the same unconstitutional restrictions that Kulov was?

It will be interesting to see where Kulov goes from here.

29 January 2007

Isaac's Storm

I needed a break from a longer book of fiction I'm working through and read Isaac's Stormby Erik Larson yesterday. It was a very quick read and interesting, but I don't think I'm sold on Larson's storytelling after reading this and The Devil in the White City. With this book in particular I almost felt that the author was playing with people's lives. I have absolutely no interest in reliving any type of natural disaster. It becomes simply a matter of horrifying details instead of real life. But Larson is still unquestionably better than Winchester.

The subtitle is also rather misleading (...the Deadliest Hurricane in History) since the Galveston hurricane was far from the deadliest hurricane in history, although none has topped it in the US. Am I not supposed to care about the thousands of people who have died in cyclones and hurricanes outside the US?

There are still a lot of good things about this book. There are many interesting bits about early weather forecasting in the US (although it covered a lot of the same territory The Children's Blizzard did) and it was enjoyable in many ways. Recommended, particularly if you already like Larson.

27 January 2007

Ten Thousand Villages

We visited Ten Thousand Villages yesterday, a store that sells fair trade handicrafts from many places around the world (but not Central Asia- they needed some shyrdaks). But they had lots of fun things like this bead calendar. I was actually quite impressed with the selection and the prices. Too many places like this might sell fair trade items, but then they double or triple the price by the time the items gets to the US and they're prohibitively expensive. The Ten Thousand Villages I visited is non-profit and run almost entirely by volunteers. I'll definitely be going there again.

Galimoto (Speaking of Toys)

We picked up a galimoto at Ten Thousand Villages. And we got Galimototo go with it about a little boy who finds the wire an fabric he needs to build one. This is exactly what I was talking about when I wrote about toys a few days ago.

26 January 2007

You've Been in Russia (or Kyrgyzstan) Too Long When

Siberian Light has a great link Turkish Invasion's list of 45 hints that you might have spent too long in Russia. Lots of them applied to Kyrgyzstan too, like

  • You ride the marshrutka shouting ostanovite na ostanovke EXACTLY where you want to stop, and not worrying about handing your money to the driver via 6 people
  • Strangers are molodoi chelovek! or devushka
  • You keep typing 'н' instead of 'n'
  • You start to say oiy, akh, ekh
  • You actually start to use the prefixes with verbs of motion
  • You start measuring in km, kg, and, koneshno, sto gramms!
  • You get suspiscious when someone smiles at you (rightly so)
  • You laugh at Russian comedy
  • Voda and bezgazirovannaya are inextricably linked in your head
  • The DSP start pulling even more cars off the road, and you're not surprised when a politician convoy goes past at 200km
  • You take a plastic bag everywhere just in case
  • You yell Alyo!? into the phone when you answer

Do We Really Want to Send Toys?

Sometimes you hear, when you're reading about a child living in poverty in another country, that they have so little that they don't even have any toys.

But they do. I've never ever seen a child who didn't have some kind of toy from the street children in Bishkek to the tiny little children in the City of the Dead in Cairo to homeless children in the US. It might not have looked that great (a pile of bones, a wad of fabric tied together for a ball, a stick for a doll), but they had toys and they played. They didn't necessarily need what we think of as toys.

And when I saw how some of the traditional games are disappearing because of toys and video games from other parts of the world, I really wonder if sending those toys to other countries is even a good idea.

Of course, toys can be a good idea after a natural disaster. And there's nothing wrong with sending toys. But our toys aren't any better than theirs. I wish we still played with bones.

25 January 2007

Bolo and Pilau

Sabzi pilau and bolo for dinner. So what if one is Persian and the other Brazilian?

23 January 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinkingis an excellent read. Not happy or fun, but simply good. It's a memoir of the year after Didion's husband died.

One of my favorite things about the book was how clear it was that Didion and her husband loved and supported each other. But it made his death even harder because of that. I simply enjoyed reading the book. Recommended.

I've often wondered if it's easier for a spouse when a person dies unexpectedly or after a long illness. I'm inclined to think it all equals out in the end since the unexpectedness of a death can make getting on with life even more difficult but a long illness is so hard to deal with.

Still just cooking away. And reading. It's so fun to have new cookbooks again. I've discovered a real taste for rice stick and tofu. And I'm even baking again, something besides bread.

22 January 2007

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White Cityby Erik Larson was a good book. It's about the Chicago World's Fair, something I've wanted to learn more about after reading snatches of stories about the fair for years. This was a great introduction.

The bulk of the book was about Daniel Burnham, the overseer and moving force behind the fair. There was a minor story running through the book about H.H. Holmes, a psychopathic murderer who lived in Chicago during the fair.

The parts about the fair itself were unquestionably better than the parts about Holmes. While it was an effective storytelling device to weave Holmes story throughout the book, I got tired of it and finally skipped ahead to read the parts about Holmes to get him out of the way. Larson clearly didn't have much to work with when writing about Holmes and I felt he had to stretch things a bit to keep that part of the story going.

I'd have liked to have heard more about the fair and its effects and I could have totally skipped Holmes. Still this was a good book to read. Recommended.

19 January 2007

Potato-Apple Pie

This is the pie I made a couple of days ago and comes from hotsoursaltysweet.com. The only change I would make is to mix a little flour in with the apples if they're quite juicy; we ended up with lots and lots of juice. You could also leave the butter out of the filling and mix the sugar with the apples too. The pie browned too quickly for me, so I covered it with foil to let the apples finish cooking.

(I also made the Beirut Tahini Swirls yesterday; they were excellent. The recipe is posted on the internet if you want to try them.)

Makes one double-crust eight-inch apple pie with a thick tender potato crust; serves 6 to 8

1 pound potatoes, peeled
About 1 ounce (1 heaping tablespoon) butter
About 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for surfaces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon sugar

2 large or 3 medium-sized firm apples, peeled and thinly sliced
About 1 ½ ounces chilled butter, in four thin slices
Scant ½ cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut up the potatoes, bring to a boil in water and cook until tender. Drain, add the 1 ounce butter and immediately mash while hot, adding the salt, ginger, and 1 tablespoon sugar. When potatoes are smooth, add ½ cup flour and stir. Add another scant ½ cup flour and stir and knead in, then turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, several minutes. Cut in half and roll each half out to a round about 9 inches in diameter [I just used my fingers]. Lightly grease an 8-inch pie plate and line with half the dough. Place on the shell the chopped apples, mounded up in the middle. Drape the other rolled-out pastry sheet over the mounded apples and press the edges together firmly to seal. Make an X-shaped cut, each arm of which should be about 2 inches long, over the central mound of the pie. Bake it in the center of the preheated oven at 400 degrees.

After 45 minutes, the pie should be touched with golden brown. Cut four thin slices from the end of a pound of very cold butter. Lift the pie from the oven and quickly slip a slice of cold butter under each flap of the cut top of the pie. Sprinkle onto each slice of butter about 2 tablespoons sugar (under each flap). Place the pie back in the oven to bake for another 5 minutes. It will be golden brown all over. Take out, let stand five minutes, and serve, hot or warm.

Ancestor Stones

Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna is quite simply an excellent novel. It follows the lives of four sisters born and raised in Sierra Leone in the 20th century. As with Things Fall Apart the book has a uniquely African voice and talks about many things from female circumcision and polygamy and education to Christianity and Islam.

Forna is an excellent writer and Ancestor Stones is unquestionably recommended. I'm so glad I stumbled on it. Forna also wrote The Devil That Danced on the Water, a memoir of her father who was executed in Sierra Leone for his political activities that got many positive reviews, although I haven't been able to find it yet.

18 January 2007

Apple Pie in a Potato Crust

I finally settled on buying HomeBaking and Seductions of Rice.I already knew I liked Seductions of Rice because I've been using recipes from it for year now (seemed like I ought to buy it), but HomeBaking was new to me and I've been very pleased with it. We're making the Tahini Rolls today and last night we tried the apple pie baked in a potato dough crust. That was one of the best apple pies I've ever had and it was so much easier and healthier too. HomeBaking is bargain priced too right now, so it's a great deal.

And we tried the Chinese egg fried rice and the Thai red curry from Seductions of Rice last night (an odd collection of dishes, yes, but I prefer to try several new things at once in case something bombs). The Thai curry was very simple and so was the fried rice and both turned out perfectly. What a great meal. I've only found a few cookbooks authors that I can always count on like I can the authors of these cookbooks (see Flatbreads & Flavors and Hot Sour Salty Sweettoo.

17 January 2007

One Year Ago

Things Fall Apart

I read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for the first Reading Across Borders challenge. This wasn't one of the very best novels I've ever read but I definitely enjoyed it. I wish it had been longer; at under 200 pages it seemed too short. One of the best things about the book is that it is told from an African perspective. There are so few voices from Africa at the beginning of colonialism and even though this is fiction, it is unquestionably African and authentic. The last few chapters dealing with Christian missionaries in Nigeria were particularly good. I'd like to read more books like this. Recommended.

15 January 2007

Reject Pile

I tried reading a couple of books over the weekend, but they all were returned to the library today. I'm not reading anymore books from the local library without solid recommendations. I started Eagle Dreams and Lost Cities of China, Central Asia and India and The Opium Wars and The Silk Road and they were all just ho hum or downright boring. So I went back today (nice it was open) and got a better collection.
One of the best posts ever

14 January 2007

Comet McNaught

This comet keeps getting better. I missed it earlier this week because it was cloudy every evening, but you might be able to see it during the day. Stand just in the shadow of a building and use your closed fist to measure one fist's width east of the sun and that's where the comet should be. Be especially careful though if you're using binoculars since it is so close to the sun. This is the brightest comet since 1965.

13 January 2007

The Last Barbarians

The Last Barbarians: The Discovery of the Source of the Mekong in Tibetby Michel Peissel was a pretty good read- certainly a lot better than the two reviews at Amazon give it credit for. Not just a travel book or a book about Tibet, this book covers a lot of things from the history and geography of Tibet to Peissel's rather boring and too-long musings on modern life. Those were easily skipped and I generally enjoyed the book. Peissel speaks Tibetan (a rarity in too many travel books) and doesn't complain much about the conditions (even when he had kidney stones, and you're allowed to complain about those). He does have some odd ideas, first complaining that modern life ruins our intelligence, but then pining for the days when Europeans travelled about Asia carried by coolies with tuberculosis. Those are the parts worth skipping- Peissel is better at Tibetan than concise writing.

All in all not really worth picking up, but if you're interested in Tibet, it's probably worth reading. Peissel also briefly writes about a later excursion to Tibet to study horses.

12 January 2007

Reading Across Borders

I've never done any of the reading challenges floating around, but Kate's Reading Across Borders may have hooked me. SFP has her list up, and there are lots of other lists in the comments at Kate's blog (one of the best is an entire blog devoted to reading across the world and I didn't know about Words Without Borders). I've been thinking about reading more literature and this may be the way to go. Now technically I shouldn't put any books from Central Asia on my list, but that seems a bit excessive to me so I'll break that rule. This list (in progress) is mostly limited to books I can get at the local library. And I'd love to get more suggestions, of course, especially since this list is pretty heavy on Asia. (Links to reviews are being added as I finish each book.)

The Railway by Hamid Ismailov
Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna
My Name is Red and Snow by Orhan Pamuk
The Day Lasts More Than 100 Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

11 January 2007


My new favorite website

This is an online keyboard emulator that allows you to type in a wide variety of scripts and then simply copy and paste them wherever you want. It even has Kyrgyz, although once you get the Cyrillic in, it's not hard to add any language that uses Cyrillic. The Arabic looks good and so does the Russian, so I'm happy. This is a handy way to type in a different script and have the keyboard right there too. I've got the Russian and Arabic scripts in the computer but I don't use them often enough to remember the keyboard.

Comet McNaught

This comet has been around for several weeks now and steadily brightening. Tonight is the night to look if you live in the northern hemisphere and want to see it. Look for it just after sunset just following the sun. I fear that I will either forget to look tonight (it's a little busy around 5:30 here) or it will be cloudy. But do try to see it if you can.

10 January 2007

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

What a fun book, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agencyby Alexander McCall Smith. My mother gave this to me last summer and last night when I'd run out of library books, I decided to read this one. It was quick and lighthearted, but still interesting and honest. It didn't feel like it was trying to be anything but a good book. Recommended.

There are other books in the series that I imagine would be fun to read too, sometime. But there are many other books out there.

09 January 2007

And Another Earthquake

Another earthquake in Kyrgyzstan, but this one was in the south (the orange square). There is always a reasonable amount of minor earthquake activity going on in this part of Central Asia, but there have been several stronger earthquakes in the last few weeks.

The Thirteenth Tale

I don't read much fiction, and even less contemporary fiction, but I succumbed to the hype and read The Thirteenth Taleby Diane Setterfield. What a great book. I usually complain about books that use dysfunctional families to move the plot along, but I didn't feel that way at with this book despite this family being so dysfunctional that all the things that happen aren't really believable. It was simply a good plot by an author that knows how to write. Highly recommended.

I really ought to read more contemporary fiction; all non-fiction really can't be the only option. Maybe I'll try The Emperor of Ocean Park as per Julie's (and my sister's mother-in-law's) suggestion. Actually it's just nice to have time to read again. Practically all I managed to get through in December was Harry Potter again.

08 January 2007

Parasite Rex

I finished Parasite Rex : Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creaturesby Carl Zimmer yesterday. The last day of reading was by far the best. I did a lot of skimming in the first half of the book because it was pretty boring. There were bits and pieces that were interesting (for example, the parts talking about how parasites control the behavior of their hosts, and the lengths scientists have gone to to learn about parasites) but there was for too much detail about how this parasite or that one gets into a hosts and wraps itself around various body parts. I felt like most of the book was a collection of magazine articles with details about specific parasites filling in the gaps.

The last third was a lot more interesting, particularly the chapter on how parasites affect humans. It was very interesting to read about the ideas of how the lack of parasites in some parts of the world has given rise to other ailments in those better-off humans. And the chapters about using parasites as biological warfare were interesting even though I was familiar with what they were talking about.

So I can't quite recommend this book unless you're really interested in the topic. Still, I didn't quit in the middle and I'm glad I didn't. But I've moved on to better things.

06 January 2007

Noodles and Tea

Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows I love Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's cookbooks. I've had Flatbreads & Flavorsfor about 8 years now and it's still my favorite cookbook; Hot Sour Salty Sweetand Seductions of Riceare high on my list of favorite cookbooks. I haven't had a chance get to see their Mangoes & Curry Leavesbut hopefully it will come to a library near me sometime.

But! They have a new cookbook coming out in a year about China. And this isn't going to be your typical Chinese cookbook. When Alford and Duguid go somewhere, they don't stick to the basics, they go to the unusual places. So this Chinese cookbook will cover Xinjiang province and Tibet and all the "other" parts of China that are often sadly ignored in Chinese cookbooks (Xinjiang province in particular is missing in almost every Chinese cookbook I've ever seen). From their website:

Our current working title for the book is Noodles and Tea: Culinary Travels Beyond the Great Wall, as a way of indicating that we are in China, but in the regions around the edge, from Tibet to Mongolia, from Xinjiang to the hills and mountains of Guizhou and Yunnan. We are delighted to be getting to regions new to us (Guizhou province for example) as well as revisiting places we came to know well in the late eighties and nineties, such as Tibet, Yunnan, and Xinjiang.

We’re now at the editing stage, though there are also a number of recipes that need more work. We’ve had a good time figuring out grilled kebabs from the oasis towns of Xinjiang and several breads, including an interesting and easy round loaf baked by Kazakhs in a kind of dutch oven. We are still struggling with the Uighur stretched noodles; if anyone has any information that could help with this, please write. We know the technique, but we can’t get a dough that is happy being stretched and flung.

I have to admit that I'm pretty excited. :) And I wish I'd asked the Uyghurs we knew how to make those noodles. I always wanted to.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford is a fascinating book. Not only is it an informative and well-written history of the Mongol Empire, it comes as close as almost any popular non-fiction I've read to telling the history of the Mongols from a Mongol perspective than from a European one. Weatherford has clearly spent a lot of time in Asia and understands what he is talking about, particularly in the first half of the book that is devoted to the life of Chinggis Khan.

This is much more than a biography of Chinngis Khan (I love the name; one of my English students in Bishkek was named Chinngis), it's a history of the Mongols from the birth of Chinggis to the death of Kubilai, with a very quick summary of what happened to Chinngis' descendants after 1300. Weatherford also writes about the major impact the Mongols had on Europe and Asia and the common misperceptions many in Asia and Europe have about the Mongols. The fact that many Mongols were Christian, their religious tolerance, the role of women, and especially the ability of many Mongol leaders for administration, and so much more are often ignored

and only slightly more about the A few complaints- Weatherford writes very little about the Golden Horde and the ChaghataisIlkhanids. The chapter on the Kublilai and the Yuan dynasty was very good, but I felt that focusing only on China after Mongke Khan's death was a bit limited. Weatherford is also rather optimistic in his evaluation of Mongol contributions in the opening and closing of the book. While the Mongols had a much bigger impact on the making of the modern world than most Westerners give them credit for, they also were not the sole instigators of modernism in Central Asia, the Middle East, China, or Europe. But maybe his exaggerations help balance the ignorance that most have about the real impact of the Mongols. And these very small drawbacks should in no way keep you from reading the book.

The Mongols weren't a bunch of nomad warriors sweeping out of the East to wreak havoc and destruction on the civilized world. Highly recommended.

05 January 2007

Pad Thai

I tried making pad thai for the first time tonight; it was delicious. I used a recipe from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia and found a lovely little Asian grocery only a few blocks from the boys' tae kwon do place where I got the necessary ingredients. I was rather impressed with the store. I've been in lots of ethnic groceries and some are a little haphazard and dusty, but this one was quite nice and even had plenty of good produce.

Last night we had khachapuri from Georgia and I think tomorrow we might have plov from Central Asia. Or maybe chilequiles from Mexico, or kichree from Iraq. If you can't go there, at least you can eat the food.

04 January 2007

Take Off!

Take Off! is unquestionably the best geography game I've ever played (and I've played more than a few). Most geography games are long on facts and short on plain fun. Facts are fine, but I'd rather my children learn the locations of countries and their capitals and a few other facts like religion and ethnicity and not worry about major imports or the exact GNP or the monetary unit of any country. Take Off! requires you to spend the entire game looking at a world map and moving between capitals and major cities around the world. And it covers every single capital and country from East Timor and Djibouti to Russia and Mexico. There's no skipping over the countries that are usually ignored (or maybe I just was pleased to be able to zip between Urumqi and Bishkek). You don't need to know anything about geography to enjoy this game, but it still teaches you a lot because you play over and over and learn every time you play.

03 January 2007

Updated the Kyrgyzstan adoption page.

02 January 2007


Way to go Boise State! That was one of the best games I've ever watched.

01 January 2007

Eid Mubarak

Eid al-Adha Mubarak to Muslims everywhere, from Saudi Arabia to Kyrgyzstan to Mali.