29 August 2008

The Sea Road

The Sea Road: A NovelA friend of mine recently recommended Margaret Elphinstone's The Sea Road. It's a novel about Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir (there's a biography about her called The Far Traveler by Nancy Marie Brown), a Scandinavian women of the Viking age who sailed all over the North Atlantic from Iceland to Norway to Greenland and North America, and later on to Europe. And now I'm recommending this excellent book here.

Probably my favorite thing about this book was that Gudrid felt like a real person. In fact, this is one of the best examples of historical fiction for that reason. I can't think of a false step anywhere in this book regarding Gudrid's characterization. I also liked the method of writing with Agnar writing what Gudrid told him. Exactly right.

Unfortunately this book is a little hard to find. It's out of print and not at very many libraries. I ended up with an ILL from New York. You can order it used online pretty easily though, and for not much money. This would also be an excellent book for a book group.

(And if you do check the reviews at Amazon, disregard the negative one. I can see little resemblance between what is described in that review and the book I read.)

18 August 2008

Oksana Chusovitina

I was so pleased to see Oksana Chusovitina win a silver medal on vault. NBC has an interview with her that talks about her son (she's one of a very few gymnasts to continue competing after giving birth), her long gymnastics career (she was on the Unified Team in 1992- remember SvetlanaBoginskaya?), and her citizenship in Germany (her family moved to Germany for her son's cancer treatment) but her feelings about Uzbekistan (she was born in Bukhara).

12 August 2008

Olympic Minorities and a Recipe

I've been thoroughly enjoying the Olympics, especially the Opening Ceremony. That was spectacular. I wasn't surprised, and therefore not disappointed, that Han culture and history were emphasized, but at least I don't have to focus on that part of China here.

Here's a recipe from the Miao/Hmong people of southeast Asia. Miao is the official name in China; it's not a very nice term to use in the rest of Southeast Asia. There is a reasonably large Hmong population in the US and Canada and there is quite a lot of diversity among the Hmong.

Pork with Corn and Chiles

1/3 lb pork loin, sliced thinly into small pieces
3 cups corn, from about 4 ears of corn, or good-quality frozen corn
1 T oil
2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
2 red cayenne chiles, sliced (I used my own dried ones, crushed)
1 tsp salt

Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil. When it's hot, add the garlic and stir fry for a minute, then add the pork and Sichuan pepper and stir fry for a few minutes, then add the chiles and half the salt and stir-fry till the pork has changed color all over. Add the corn and the rest of the salt and stir fry till the corn is cooked, about 3-4 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, with rice.

This is from Beyond the Great Wall.

08 August 2008

My Bombay Kitchen

Yes, I do read other cookbooks besides the ones by Alford and Duguid, and My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking by Niloufer Ichaporia King is one worth reading.

The tone may be one of the best parts of the book- it sounds like King is in the kitchen with you, giving advice as you go along. And there's a wide variety of recipes. Parsi cooking isn't just Indian, and it's certainly not Persian or any other cuisine. My Bombay Kitchen has all sorts of recipes from the traditional dhansak and plenty of egg recipes to dishes based on Swedish, Italian, and Irish basics.

If you insist on pictures of the food, don't get this book. There are some drawings, but no photos of any type. Personally, I don't think this is ever a drawback in any cookbook, but there's so much to make up for it in this one that I didn't even notice the lack of photos (and it makes the book more affordable).

There is also a good bibliography in the back with suggestions for further reading, especially on the history of the Parsis, who are worth an entire post (or several) on their own. Wiki has a good introduction, and also article on Parsi cuisine.

07 August 2008

Ricotta Pie

This is from HomeBaking.

3 T sugar
3/4 c milk
2 tsp yeast
1 3/4 cups flour
Pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, combine the milk and sugar, then stir in the yeast to dissolve. Add 1 cup flour and stir to make a smooth batter. Cover and let rest one hour.

Add the salt and 1/2 cup flour and stir. Turn out and knead till smooth, adding flour as needed, but still keeping the dough very soft. Cover and let rise one hour.

11 1/2 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c sugar
1 c flour

While the dough is rising, combine the butter, sugar, and flour, rubbing the butter between your fingers till you have coarse crumbs. Set aside in a cool place.

12 oz ricotta
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

While the dough is rising, combine the above for the filling, beating till smooth.

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Punch down the dough, then press it into the skillet, letting it rest for a couple of minutes if you need to so it reaches the edges. Spread the ricotta mixture on, leaving a small rim, then top with the flour/sugar/butter mixture.

Bake for 35 minutes, or till the filling is set and the crust and topping are lightly browned. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.

You've Been in Russia a Long Time

I found this old link today, and had to post it in honor of my parents who have been in Russia for the last 18 months.

Here are a few highlights:

7)You take a plastic bag everywhere 'just in case'
8)You yell 'Alyo!?' into the phone when you answer
11)You remember with scorn the time when you had to buy the whole multipack of yogurts, and not just snap out your favourite flavour
18)You start measuring in km, kg, and, koneshno, sto gramms!
19)You get suspicious when someone smiles at you (rightly so).
31)'Da net!' becomes a logical and useful phrase
36)You keep typing 'н' instead of 'n'
41)Strangers are 'molodoi chelovek!' (young man) or 'devushka' (young woman)
42)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
45)You know you're going to miss everything when you get back

06 August 2008

I went to the funeral last week of a good friend of mine from high school. She died unexpectedly last Sunday, leaving behind her husband and 3-year-old son. We'd been friends since we were 12.

After I got the news, I found her blog that she'd started a few months ago. She just had a few posts, mostly about the house they bought last year and especially about her son.

I've been trying to write down anything I can remember about her when we were growing up, to send to her husband. She was a good friend in so many ways- her gift was to make people feel comfortable and welcome, and that gift increased after she got married. We'll all miss her.

05 August 2008

Small Irritations

People who only have cell phones and no land line. I don't really like to call you when you're grocery shopping, or at the pool, or on vacation in another country. I especially don't like to have to pay long distance fees to do so.

Costco. I cannot see the attraction. I am tired of Costco food. It's better than regular prepared foods, sometimes, but still, it's processed food. I don't like it when I ask for a recipe (usually to be polite) and find out it's from Costco. I am tired of eating cookies and potato salad from Costco. The produce is good, but no cheaper than the regular grocery store. And you have to buy so much more at a time. I feel like almost everything I eat outside of my home is from Costco. At least someone else had to go there and brave the crowds.

I think that's all that's been bothering me recently. Since I am not pregnant and living in an apartment that can be kept cool, I have been much happier this summer than last summer.

04 August 2008

WorldWise Quizzes

I stumbled on National Geographic's city quizzes. They're rather fun, even though they don't have Cairo. I'll forgive them for not having Bishkek. I've tried Jerusalem, Beijing, and St. Petersburg so far.

02 August 2008

Solar Eclipse

It's interesting to compare the reactions to yesterday's solar eclipse to the one in March of 2006 that also cut a path through Asia. This one was significantly better publicized and there was a lot of blogging about it, but the 2006 eclipse was hardly noticed (I saw it though), even though you could see much of the same thing in many places. The March 2007 eclipse was the same. I can't remember any blogging about that one.

Asia has a couple more total solar eclipses coming up in the next few years: one in Indonesia in January 2009, another in India, Bhutan (I'd love to be in Thimphu then!), China, and a few other places in July 2009, and then one in January of 2010 in India and Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and China. And then my book that charts eclipses ends.