29 July 2008

Foster Families in Kyrgyzstan

This article from IRIN talks about efforts to put orphaned and abandoned children into foster families in Kyrgyzstan. I wish them well.

23 July 2008

We live a block from a large cathedral with bells that chime every 15 minutes (more on Sundays). I love it. But yesterday we started hearing some new sounds on the hour. I can't figure out where they're coming from. These sound a lot more electronic, and this morning at 8, after the hour was marked, we also heard "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (although maybe it was supposed to be "God Save the Queen").

I wonder if they'll last. We'll have to track down the source if they do. There are several other churches around our apartment, but it doesn't sound like it's coming from them.

Vietnamese Noodles

Rice vermicelli
Pickled bean sprouts (see recipe below)
Carrot salad
Salad greens and/or fresh herbs
Meat (see below)
Nam jeem (see below)

Cook the noodles and put everything into bowls. Let people mix and match as they please. You can garnish with mint or coriander, add in some salad greens, and also top the noodles with chunks of spring rolls or whatever else you have around. Drizzle with the nam jeem.

Pickled bean sprouts:
1/2 lb sprouts, either soy or mung
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 T salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 c rice vinegar
2 c water

Wash the sprouts and drain, then place in a bowl. Put the rest of the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil and stir to dissolve. Let cool to room temperature, then pour over the sprouts, covering everything. Let stand at room temperature for 1-2 hours. Drain and serve.

Nam jeem:
1/2 c vinegar
1/2 c sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 T crushed red pepper

Heat the vinegar and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the garlic, salt and pepper into a paste. Remove the vinegar from the stove and stir in the garlic paste. Let cool to room temperature before serving. It keeps well in the fridge and is good over all sorts of rice and noodle dishes.

For the meat, just use whatever tasty thing you have around. Something quick and easy is shredded chicken sauteed with spices, or even just in some soy sauce. Sliced pork and beef are also good. Or skip the meat if you like.

This is all from Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Catching Genius

Catching GeniusI've been trying out a few books recommended in the Chinaberry catalogue the last few days; this one was a perfectly fine book, but not one I'd really recommend. The cover says Jodi Picoult fans will like this one, and it's true. I felt like it was a lot like a Picoult book (in my limited experience of reading two of hers).

Kristy Kiernan is a perfectly fine author, but nothing amazing, and the story wasn't amazing either. The entire book felt trendy and predictable. But it was good summer reading, and it was an easy read.

21 July 2008

Birds in Fall

Birds in Fall: A NovelI was a little worried, after picking this book up at the library, that I wasn't going to like this book. It has an over-used beginning with a plane crashing into the ocean, leaving no survivors. But I loved it. It's wonderful to read and I very much enjoyed it. The characters were realistic, the setting perfect. It wasn't a book I wanted to get through quickly- it's too sad- but it was perfect for the little chunks of reading time I get throughout the day. I'm glad I found it.

Baby Grace

Here's a way to show your love for Artemis and her family.

19 July 2008

Books Intestate

Natasha had an interesting thought in the comments a couple of days ago about what would happen to your books if you died tomorrow. Would your family get rid of them? Keep them?

I'm thinking that my husband would want to get rid of most of my books. We've moved them all over the place and he's never read the vast majority of them. But I'd hope he'd keep the children's books for the boys. And I think he'd keep most of the Islam and Central Asia books. The school books would go. He has no plans to continue with homeschooling if I'm gone.

Actually, I'd hope that he would let my friends and family go through them and keep what they want. Then he could get rid of most of the rest. I'm liking that idea. I'm sure he'll be so relieved to know.

18 July 2008

The Black Rose and Reading Stupid Books for a Book Club

So, I read this book by Thomas B. Costain for my book group. There is no way I would have started it, much less finished it, if not for that. More about that at the end.

It's set in the late 1200s and follows our hero Walter as he troops around Europe and Asia, ending up in China. It was published in 1945 and is completely typical of historical fiction written at that time- overwrought, unbelievable, sappy, and inaccurate. Still, it was quick to read and required absolutely no brain power, so it would be a good read if you're spending the day at home with the flu. I did watch half of the movie based on the book the other day. It was even worse.

So what do you do when you're reading a book not worth your time for a book club? There are too many good books out there to read to waste time on books like The Black Rose, but I do enjoy my book group enough that I want to have read whatever book we're discussing. I've only almost had this problem once, when my last book group chose Gone with the Wind, but I moved before the discussion took place. Whew.

But what can I say about this book when we meet? Even if I had liked it, there's really not all that much to discuss. It's a plot-driven book. And the woman who choose it LOVES it. Just loves it. So I can't say what I really think about there. It might be interesting to discuss historical fiction in general. It's much nicer when I don't like the book we're discussing if the one who chose it hasn't read it before (as will be the case with Three Cups of Tea).

I suppose I'll just have to go and enjoy the food and the company. How sad. :)

17 July 2008

Yogurt-Tahini Sauce

This is delicious on falafel or ta'amia or just to dip flatbread in.

1/4 c tahini
1/2 c lemon juice
1/2 c yogurt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Garlic or other herbs to taste

Combine the tahini and lemon juice. This will take some time, but keep stirring and mashing till they are combined. Then add the rest of the ingredients. It's best to let it sit for at least an hour before serving, and it lasts a week in the fridge.

Or dump everything in the blender.

A Book Meme, Because I Like Them

What kind of book are you most comfortable reading?

If I'm sleepy or sick or feeling blah in general, I like to reread something, or just slowly work through a couple of books. That's why my summer reading is always so bland. I feel blah all summer. But then it cools off again and most of the year I'm most comfortable reading excellent fiction and interesting non-fiction.

What kind of a book do you love to hate?

Popular stuff and romance stuff. Self-help is generally awful too, as is most stuff about current US politics.

What was the last book you surprised yourself by liking?

Angle of Repose. I didn't know what to expect, but I really enjoyed it. I hoped to like it.

What was the last book you surprised yourself by disliking?

I didn't like Three Cups of Tea, but I'm not sure that was a surprise. Like Melissa, I was surprised to not like The Book Thief.

What would be the worst book to be marooned on a desert island with?

The very worst? There are so many that would be awful. Something short and boring though would probably be the worst.

What book would you take with you if you suspected you might be marooned in the near future?

Well, when I was sort of marooned a few years ago, I took lots of classics, some non-fiction, and a few old favorites. An old favorite might be best.

What forces you to read outside your comfort zone?

My book group and online suggestions, especially suggestions from trusted friends. But I wouldn't really say that there are a lot of books outside my comfort zone. I'll read just about anything, but there's not much that will make me read books that I don't think are worth my time.
I love it when a friend is getting rid of books and lets me go through them before they're sold. I've gotten all sorts of interesting books that way, although it depends on the friend. Some people's books aren't worth looking through. But this friend and her extended family have an interest in politics and things international, and also in literature, so it was a worthwhile afternoon at her house.

And it's always nice to look back on those books after we move and remember where we got them. Buying books at Amazon is lovely, but I like to see the ones I picked up in interesting place. Like Mansfield Park in Amman. And Marco Polo in Bishkek. A Qur'an in Jerusalem. Islamic Art that was a wedding gift from an Arabic-speaking friend. A well-loved copy of Living a Beautiful Life was the first thing my future mother-in-law ever gave me. Most of these books aren't my favorites, but the books themselves are.

14 July 2008

Families Need Not Apply

We've still not found an apartment in our next city that works for us. Well, we've found apartments that work for us, but every time we send an email to get more information, we're told that these 2-bedroom apartments aren't big enough for our family. Never mind that it is illegal to advertise a 2-bedroom apartment and then refuse to rent it to a family with children, (unless the apartment is very small, and these haven't been less than 900 square feet) .

Of course, no one has to rent to a family with children. But you can't advertise that you won't, and if you do advertise and then refuse to rent to someone simply based on that fact that that family has too many children, that's illegal. I understand why owners would be concerned about renting to a family, but families need places to live too.

We've never had trouble like this, but we've never had 3 children before either. But do these laws really do any good for us right now? We need an apartment soon.

11 July 2008


I don't have a recipe here, but Mexican green rice is also really good. You make it about the same way as the red rice below, but with roasted green peppers instead of the tomatoes, and don't put in any corn.


Saute a chopped onion and some grated carrots in a oil for a couple minutes, then add two and a half cups of rice, 1 or 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1-2 tsp salt, an entire head of garlic (peel off the outer layer) and some crushed red pepper. Stir the onions and rice till the rice is coated with oil, then add about 4 cups of boiling water. Turn the heat down a little and simmer till the water is just gone. As soon as the water is gone (the rice won't be fully cooked), use the handle of a spoon to make some holes in the rice down to the bottom of the pot. Pour a bit more olive oil over the top, cover, and turn the heat as low as it will go. If you have an electric stove, you might want to set the pot on top of a pair of tongs so the bottom doesn't burn. Let the rice steam till the garlic is cooked. If you get worried, you can add more water. The goal is to have a nice brown crunchy shell on the bottom. It'll take at least 30 minutes. Stir it all up when you're done and enjoy. Pop the garlic out of its skin to enjoy it.

Mexican Red Rice

2 cups rice
2 large tomatoes
1 onion, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic
3 T oil
3 c chicken broth
2 tsp salt
Corn from one ear

Grill the tomatoes and onion over high heat till blackened all over, blend. Add water if needed to get two cups of puree. Set aside. Heat the oil in a medium pot over high heat, then lower to medium high and cook the rice in the oil till golden. In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. When the rice is golden, add the puree and stir, then add the hot broth and stir. Let boil 4-5 minutes, stirring once or twice, then add the salt and corn. Cover and lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 15-20 minutes before serving. This is from Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

Spinachy Rice

2 lbs spinach
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil Feta
1/2 c tomato puree boiled down to 3 Tbsp (I do this in the microwave)
1 c rice
1 Tbsp dried dill, or 3-4 Tbsp fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the spinach, place in a colander, sprinkle on some salt, and mix well. Let sit for 15-30 minutes till the spinach has wilted. Rinse very well and shred, squeezing out extra moisture (this reduces the bulk of the spinach so it will fit in your pan). Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add onion. Saute 10 minutes till soft, then add 2 c water, tomato puree, and rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Spread spinach and dill over top, cover and cook 10 more minutes till rice is cooked. Season with salt and pepper and serve with feta. Serves 4. This is based on a recipe called "Greek-style Rice with Spinach, Feta, and Black Olives" from Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert.


2 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 T salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil or 4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 large egg

Wash the rice thoroughly, then place in a large pot with 3 tablespoons of salt and enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Let soak for 2 to 3 hours. Drain well.

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a vigorous boil. Add the salt, then gradually sprinkle in the rice. Stir gently to prevent sticking, and bring back to a boil. After the rice has been boiling for a 2 minutes, test for doneness. The rice is ready when the outside is tender but there remains a slight uncooked resistance at the core of the grain. If the core of the grain is brittle, it's not done enough. Continue to check the rice until done, then drain in the sieve and rinse with tepid to cool water (to prevent it from cooking any more).

Place the pot back over high heat and add the oil or butter and 1 tablespoon water. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg. Stir in about 1/2 cup rice, then place in the sizzling oil and spread over the bottom of the pot. Gradually add the remaining rice, sprinkling it in to form a mound. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make three or four holes through the mound to the bottom (make them fairly big; they let the steam escape so the bottom doesn't burn so quickly), then cover the pot with a lid wrapped in a tea towel. (The towel helps seal the lid and absorbs moisture from the rising steam- I usually skip the towel.) Heat over medium-high heat until steam builds up, 1 to 2 minutes, then lower heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes. When it is done, the rice will be tender and fluffy with a flavorful crust, the tahdig, on the bottom. The crust on the bottom is what you're looking for. It should be golden brown and crunchy.

The tahdig comes off more easily if, before removing the lid, you place the pot in an inch of cold water (in the sink) for a minute. If you made the pilau in a non-stick frying pan it's easy to remove (I do this so it's easy and so you get lots more crust). Mound the rice on a platter. It will probably need more salt. This is from Seductions of Rice. It's a lot easier to make then the length of the instructions might suggest.


Bibimbap is basically rice with vegetables and red pepper paste, and often a fried egg and some meat. Since there are lots of options, you just need to have some vegetables around and gochujang sauce on hand for a quick meal that can be put together in the time it takes to cook rice. I like to put some carrot salad on top too instead of cooking the carrots.

10 July 2008

Beans and Lentils

Dal with Coconut Milk

1 c red lentils
5 c water

1 T oil
1 T minced garlic
2 T minced shallots
Lots of crushed red pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 c coconut milk

Boil the lentils in a large pot in the 5 cups water till they're soft, then keep warm. Heat a pan over high heat and add the oil, then add the garlic and shallots and stir-fry for a minute. Add the rest of the spices and cook 2 more minutes, then add the salt and coconut milk, lower the heat, and cook 5 minutes. Add the spice mixture to the hot lentils and simmer a couple of minutes.

Red Lentil Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 c beef broth
2 c red lentils
16 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Combine everything in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40-50 minutes, adding more beef broth if needed. Serve with plain yogurt, if desired. This is nearly universally liked, even by people who are unfamiliar with Middle Eastern flavors. Serves 6. The recipe is from the first edition of The Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Greene.


6-9 corn tortillas, torn into bite-sized pieces, and fried in a bit of oil till golden (set aside)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1/2 Tbsp dried oregano leaves
Crushed red pepper to taste
2 cups cooked black beans
1 tsp salt
Plain yogurt

Heat oil in a frying pan (cast-iron is good), then add onion and saute till soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, oregano, and at least 1/2 c water (add more if needed). Simmer 3-8 minutes (longer if your tomatoes were fresh). Add beans, salt, and fried tortilla bits. Heat through and serve warm, topped with yogurt. It shouldn't be dry, so add more water as needed. Serves 4. Based on a recipe from Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

Couscous and Garbanzos with Spicy Garlic Sauce

1 onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup couscous
Chicken broth
2 cups cooked garbanzos
2 T olive oil
1 T garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne, or more

Saute onion in 2 T olive oil in a large pan. Steam couscous over chicken broth (or prepare according to package instructions, or just boil it in some chicken broth till done). Add the warm garbanzos and couscous to the onions, then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a couple more minutes and serve. I like this with plain yogurt. Serves 4. I have no idea where I got this recipe.


4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seed
1 cup rice
1 cup red lentils
1 tsp salt
Crushed red pepper (or black)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1-2 Tbsp butter

In a frying pan, saute garlic in oil just till you can smell the garlic (don't let it brown), then add cumin, tomato paste, rice, and lentils. Stir over low heat till coated with oil. Cover with 4 cups boiling water, add salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, adding water if necessary. Stir in butter, let melt, and serve with plain yogurt. Serves four. This comes from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.


We ate koshary almost every day in Cairo.

Equal parts cooked brown lentils, rice, and macaroni
Spicy tomato sauce

The easiest way to cook lentils, rice and pasta is to boil water in a big pot, then add 1/2 cup of lentils. Cook for 20 minutes, then add 1/2 cup of rice. Cook for 12 more minutes, then add the pasta. Cook for 8 more minutes and everything should be done. Change the proportions as desired. Serve in individual bowls topped with tomato sauce. If you like, you can cook the lentils, rice, and pasta separately and serve them in layers as is done in Cairo.

1-2 pounds fresh tomatoes, or use canned
Lots of garlic
Lots of crushed red pepper

Saute the garlic briefly in oil, then add the tomatoes. Cook them down, then add the red pepper and the vinegar and salt. This is a sharp and spicy sauce that needs more vinegar than you might think.

Fishy Meals

I finally now have four different ways that I like to prepare fish. Any type of fish, since I get what's available.

The easiest is to bake the fish with garlic, salt, and a bit of olive oil. Any other fresh spices are good too, along with some crushed red pepper. In the summer though, I cook it in on the stove instead.

Fish Curry (serve with jasmine rice)

1 lb fish fillets
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 pepper
5 scallions, minced
2 Asian shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Crushed red pepper
2 T oil
1 c coconut milk
1-2 T fish sauce

Slice the fish into pieces less than 1/2 thick and sprinkle with the salt and pepper, mix, and set aside. Pound the scallions, shallots, garlic, and crushed red pepper to a paste, adding a pinch of salt and a little water as needed. Usually though, I don't quite get to the paste point, but it's a nice goal. Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat, then add the oil. Stir-fry the fish pieces to brown them, then remove to a plate. Add 1/2 cup of the thick coconut milk to the empty frying pan and cook 5 minutes till it begins to separate. Stir in the spice paste and cook about 5 minutes, then add the rest of the coconut milk and the fish sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the fried fish and stir gently and cook for 30 seconds, adjusting for seasoning, especially if you didn't use the fish sauce. Serve over rice. This is based on the Spicy Fish Curry with Coconut Milk from Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Fish and Couscous with Garlic Sauce

Cook a pound fish in whatever manner makes you happy. While it's cooking, boil a small potato and cook a cup or two of couscous. When the fish and the potato and the couscous are done, peel the potato and put it in the blender with some olive oil (2-4 T) and some salt (as needed) and some garlic (at least four cloves) and enough chicken broth to make a nice sauce and blend. Don't put in too much potato. Serve the garlic sauce over the fish and couscous. This is very loosely based on the Aromatic Rice and Fish with Two Sauces from Seductions of Rice. That recipe is much better than this one, but much more time- and labor- intensive.

Fish Steaks with Black Pepper Rub

1 lb fish
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 c coconut milk

Mix the salt and fresh pepper and rub on the fish. Mix the turmeric and coconut milk and rub on the fish. Bake or cook or grill the fish. I like to cook it on the stove with plenty of coconut-turmeric milk, but if you're grilling, you'll only need half as much. This is wonderful mixed with jasmine rice and stir-fried greens. See the vegetables page (if I've posted it yet) for the recipe for Bangla greens. This is from Mangoes and Curry Leaves.

Angle of Repose

Angle of ReposeFor some reason I don't keep up with posting on the books I read in the summer, but I need to write a bit about this one since we did it for my book club and I don't want any of it to ooze out of my head before then.

First of all, I very much enjoyed the book, even though the ending wasn't my favorite. It's always such a pleasure to read a well-written book, especially after reading stuff that isn't. Stegner (and this is the only book of his I've read, sad to say) takes a historical character and brings her to life through fiction. I'm reading Mary Hallock Foote's real memoir now, and even though it's very good, Stegner's fictionalization of her life is better reading, although not necessarily more interesting.

I'm still trying to figure out why I really didn't like the ending though. Too abrupt? Nothing gets resolved? Probably, although those aren't bad things. I just didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of the book. But even though the book is nearly 600 pages, I didn't feel like I was slogging through any of it. Recommended.

There's so much here that will be interesting to discuss, especially regarding marriage and children. I'm looking forward to a good evening.

And if I happen to remember the titles of any other books I've read in the last few months, I'll write about them, but they weren't exactly memorable. I think they were mostly from the food writing shelf at the library.

06 July 2008

It was a lovely Fourth yesterday. We listened to the sorts of songs you ought to listen to on the Fourth, ate good food, played hard, visited cemeteries (we got to one at dusk that was appropriately spooky) and watched an impressive display of fireworks (it was even more impressive considering it was put on by a town of less than 3,000 people).

The Fourth of July is one of the best holidays around. Summer may be hot, but there are some fun holidays.