31 October 2008

Hand-Pulled Noodles

I make laghman now with homemade noodles (here's a more traditional recipe); they're much better than store-bought noodles. I've tried a couple of different sorts of noodles and these hand-stretched noodles are the best, but not what I had in Central Asia (so can I be making laghman if I don't have laghman?). But it turns out that it's very difficult to make those long, hand-pulled, thick laghman noodles (lamian in China).

But some nice software engineer decided to figure out how to make these noodles. He says he made over 35 batches of these to get the recipe and techniques right, and he's got everything you need on his website (except the patience, you'll have to find that yourself). This link goes to the page that takes you to everything you'll need (and one more link to a video in Chinese).

I hope I can try these this weekend; they look rather fun to make if you can get the dough and technique right.

30 October 2008

Real Pumpkin

Up till a couple of years ago it had never occurred to me that someone might do something with a pumpkin besides carve it, at least in the US in the 21st century. If you wanted to eat pumpkin, you bought a can of pumpkin at the grocery store and made a pumpkin pie (or cookies or bread). This pumpkin pie thing was relatively new too since the first time I had one was for school lunch when I was probably around 10 and was immediately converted. I didn't get another pumpkin pie till my sisters started marrying people who thought you were supposed to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and then I got married and learned how to make my own. With canned pumpkin.

So I bought a pumpkin and this week I made pumpkin pie and a Uighur pilau with pumpkin (from Beyond the Great Wall). I had a good recipe to follow for the pie (and some advice from Robyn) and it turned out to be easy. My pumpkin wasn't at all watery and I didn't have any trouble. But I really didn't notice much difference between the fresh pumpkin and the canned, which was disappointing. I'll probably buy a pumpkin again, because I like to bake from scratch, or as scratch as possible, but I'll keep canned pumpkin around for pies too.

But the pilau! That was worth the effort of preparing the pumpkin. You can't buy chunks of pumpkin very easily, so I expect I'll freeze some for this pilau. It's a fairly standard pilau, with carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, chicken, and, of course, plenty of rice. The recipe recommend serving it with black vinegar which was perfect.

So the verdict is that canned pumpkin is fine for anything that needs puree, but I can't imagine anything replacing the pumpkin in that pilau, not even squash, although it would do in a pinch. And yes, babushka, I'll give you the recipe if you want it.

The Mother in Me

The Mother in Me: Real-World Reflections on Growing Into MotherhoodMy oft-redirected copy of The Mother in Me arrived this afternoon, and, not being being an angel mother, I plopped down and read it while my older boys ran wild outside and the baby played, nursed, and napped in my arms. I bet my afternoon was better than yours.

Because The Mother in Me is a very good book. It's simply a compilation of essays and poetry from the Segullah women on motherhood, specifically young motherhood. (I love Segullah.) I usually avoid motherhood books because they annoy me if I don't. But this one didn't, not at all. Maybe it's because it's written by women who are in my stage of life. Or because these women don't make motherhood angelic or messy, just real.

I don't think I've ever been reading something about motherhood where I thought "I know exactly what she's talking about." I can often relate, but I've rarely found something where the author has had an experience just like one of my own until this afternoon. Emily Halverson writes, "Sometimes the Lord extends a tender mercy not be eliminating a certain trial, but in warning you that it's coming." Yes, yes, and yes, and no, I've not heard that sentiment expressed very often. And Emily Milner decisions about when to have another baby... Just two little pieces that match me.

I did have one quibble with the layout though. There were too many words crowded onto the longer pages of poetry. Johnna's "origami birds," for example, felt right, but her "no time" was packed onto one page and it was difficult to read.

Anyway, this is all to say that this little book covers a huge range of experiences. It's by women who are there, right now, with little children. They don't blame, they don't give advice. It's simply a celebration of motherhood and the women who make it possible, despite everything that might make it seem impossible.

27 October 2008

Emma Brown

Emma BrownThis book is written by Clare Boylan and is based on a just-started novel by Charlotte Bronte. The firs two chapters are Bronte's and the rest are Boylan's. You can tell, too. Boylan is no Charlotte Bronte.

The story isn't too bad, as long as you're not expecting Bronte. It's a quick read (it reminded me of The Woman in White more than Jane Eyre). But it's neither great nor memorable, and I wouldn't bother reading it if I were you.

25 October 2008

The Dancer from Khiva

The Dancer from Khiva: One Muslim Woman's Quest for FreedomI almost didn't write anything about The Dancer from Khiva by Bibish and translated by Andrew Bromfield because I didn't read the whole thing- I just skimmed it because the writing style drove me nuts. I was also a bit turned off by the subtitle (One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom) since it implies that somehow the author's religion made her life miserable. There was a lot more to it than that! You can read summaries of the book elsewhere.

Anyway, I'm assuming this was originally written in Russian since Andrew Bromfield translates from Russian even though Bibish (why no last name? Uzbeks have last names) makes it clear that she learned Russian recently and speaks and writes Uzbek much better. It's hard to know if the translation is weak or if the original writing was weak, and weak it is. One review described the book as shapeless and I couldn't agree more. I felt little connection to Bibish because she seems to feel little connection to what she wrote- it feels like fiction.

I did find Bibish's experiences in Russia as an immigrant to have some glimmers of interest, although I never could quite figure out why they went there in the first place. Major decisions are rarely explained. It was generally chronological, although certainly not entirely, but that was the only organization int he book. Honestly, the detachment ruined the book for me and I do think it could have been so much more.

I would be interested to read an interview with the translator to learn if he knows much about Central Asia, and I'd like to know more about why this particular story has been published. I'm left with a lot more questions that answers about this book. But I do hope this book helps Bibish and her family, and others.

The Moscow Times loved it.

23 October 2008


Kira-KiraI liked, but didn't love Kira-Kira. It reminded me of Memories of Summer, which I thought was a better book. If you're making a point of reading Newbery books, then this is a pleasant read from that last, but not as memorable as some.

21 October 2008

Book Groups

I just started with a new book group in my new town; I just left the best book group ever in my old town. The new one will be fine, but not amazing, I think. I fear there will be too many self-help books chosen, or feel-good stuff. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with those, but why choose them for a book group? And I do truly wish that I could find a group that more often read book I haven't read. It's so rare that I get to read a new book for a group.

Anyway, here's how I see different sorts of book groups:

  • Worst- groups that don't really talk about books, but just use it as an excuse to socialize
  • Bad- self-help/personal inspiration groups
  • Not so good, not so bad- groups with too many rules (books less than 300 pages, squeaky clean, only one type of book allowed, a tyrannical leader, etc- these groups usually are on track though)
  • Good- These are hard to describe, because so many groups are like this- not perfect, but good
  • Best- Groups of respectful women that read a wide variety of worthwhile literature and enjoy a variety of viewpoints
What other awful sorts of groups are there? Have you given up on book groups? Do you go even if the book is not great? What about expressing opinions different from the rest of the group? Have you ever tried starting your own? What would it be like if you did?

Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad

Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad (Adventura Books)This is a great collection of essays by a variety of women who lived overseas. There are a lots of different viewpoints and even though no one really described my experiences living overseas, there were plenty of I-know-exactly-what-you're-talking-about! moments. Recommended, especially if you're looking for a travel book.

18 October 2008

The Railway

This book is by Hamid Ismailov. It's set in Uzbekistan during most of the Soviet years. I didn't love it. In fact, there were parts I didn't much enjoy at all. I liked the first half quite a bit though, and tolerated the second half.

The translation is excellent. Robert Chandler has a nice intro talking about his translation, some of the difficulties, and his philosophy of translation (his discussion of profanity was interesting; English is lacking in obscenities, and that's always so obvious when you read something in translation). Chandler refers to it as a witty book, and that is true- "profoundly dark and absurdly comical."

I've been trying to track this book down for a very long time now, and I finally ordered it from the UK (although Amazon appears to have it now). It's not been widely available in the US, nor do I think it would be very popular in the US on almost any level. I'd recommend it to Central Asia aficionados, or to those interested in Soviet literature (Ismailov refers to it as a Soviet book at one point, and I completely agree; it's not necessarily an Uzbek book), or to those interested in something different from another culture.
I'm just keeping track of books the boys have read (middle son) or listened to (older son) in the last week or two. I wish I'd started this sooner. I'm not trying to make any sort of statement here, just keeping track.

I'm always looking for recommendations for the boys. Oldest son is 9 and reads like a typical 9-year-old boy and listens to anything. He loves audiobooks. Middle son is 7 but reads very well, much better than his brother. He'll read anything.

Oldest son- The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963, Black Beauty, Peter and the Starcatchers, The Cay, The Tale of Desperaux, various Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, Adam Canfield of the Slash, Adam Canfield Watch Your Back!, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Eragon, Don't Know Much about World Myths, Dragon Rider, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Holes, Half Magic, Because of Winn-Dixie, Spiderwick,

Middle son- Brothers of the Heart, Peter and the Starcatchers, Eve of the Emperor Penguin, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Twenty and Ten

Stuff I've read to them in the last month or two- The Remarkable Voyages of Captain Cook, Frindle, Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun, The Bronze Bow, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Summer of the Monkeys

17 October 2008

Do you have recipes that you've always thought about trying, but for whatever reason, like not having time or the right ingredients on hand, haven't ever tried them? I've got lots of those, and I've been able to try them here, because I both have time now and a grocery store right here.

So I can pull down an interesting cookbook after lunch, find something that looks delicious, go to the store if I need something (this is allowed if you don't buy other stuff, and usually I have what we need), and have time through the afternoon to get everything ready. Even side dishes. Last night we had fish smothered in tahini. The night before, homemade rice noodles. Delicious.

(That fish was SO good. It was baked with golden-brown chunks of sauteed onions and I doubled the sauce so there would be plenty to go on the rice. It was from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean.)

Bookstore v Library, Part II

The nearest branch of library here is tiny, and it almost has more computers than books. The local Barnes and Noble has a lot more books than the library does. This would usually be unforgiveable, but the city library system is wonderful. So now when we go to the library, we just go in, pick up our stack of holds, check them out ourselves, and head back home.

Then we walk to Barnes and Noble to sit and read and to the library thing.

I'm just getting the hang of this, so I only picked up a few today:

The Forsaken People: Case Studies of the Internally Displaced

La Paella: Deliciously Authentic Rice Dishes from Spain's Mediterranean Coast
Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad
Samarkand: A Novel

16 October 2008

Handmade Noodles Aren't So Bad

I made rice noodles last night for the first time, to go with some bok choi and chicken. They were easy and delicious. Oldest son even ate them. He seems more likely to want to try something don't set a plate out for him. I cooked the noodles in sheets, like crepes, then sliced them into ribbons and stir-fried them.

Beyond the Great Wall has several recipes for noodles. I'd always thought of noodles as something you had to roll and roll and roll and I don't much like to roll things really thin (although I'm better at it than I used to be). But these require almost no rolling. Some are stretched and some are bits of dough flattened with your fingers. Oldest son eats them too.

Fried Butter

Fried ButterThis is a food memoir by Abe Opincar. It's perfectly fine, but nothing amazing.
It seems that every year I somehow get a little more organized. Or little less lazy, more likely. But whatever it is, I feel like we've hit on the perfect routine for the week that gets things done but still leaves me time to be, well, lazy.

We're getting school done in the morning, no questions asked, nothing can interfere. No other appointments or anything else. We're unavailable. The baby naps for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and is generally happy the rest of the time. He sleeps from about 7 in the evening to 7 in the morning (with a few snacks in the night). The boys are pretty willingly getting their schoolwork done in the morning so they can play by themselves in the afternoon and then play outside later after all the other kids in the neighborhood get home from school. There's time to cook too, which is good, since we have to be cheap this year.

I am having trouble not being annoyed with my husband's schedule though, especially on Wednesdays. He sits in his office, reading and writing interesting things about Central Asia, while I'm trying to manage 3 little boys and homeschooling and feeding everyone and doing everything else. I've never been jealous of him before.

10 October 2008

I love our new city. I don't love the traffic, but since we can walk almost everywhere we need to go, it doesn't matter so much. I love the huge library of books to download, I love the library with lots of Central Asia books, I love the bookstore I can walk to, and I love the place we live. But I miss my friends.

I love having all my books accessible. We all love it. All of us read and read all day.

I LOVE my husband's Central Asian politics class. I think it'd all be worth it just for that class.

07 October 2008


It's been a bad couple of days for earthquakes in Central Asia. Not that earthquakes there are unusual, but that several have been deadly, particularly for people in Tibet and Kyrgyzstan.

01 October 2008

Low-Altitude Adjustments

Up till now, I've spent all but one year of my living at a high altitude, or at least what would be defined as a high altitude for baking. Usually it's been around 4,500 feet, although some places in Idaho were only 2,500 feet.

That means I'm having to make adjustments for low altitude baking. I have to follow the recipes instructions and bake stuff for the recommended time and at the recommended temperature or it'll be burned. The rice will be done in the time the recipe says, not five minutes later. Cakes don't fall.

It's almost taken the fun out of cooking. Although my spice cake that by definition is always sunken was pretty good the other day without a pit in the middle.

I should go back through my recipes and say whether it's a low-altitude one or a high. Because I wasn't always consistent when I posted them here if I'd post my changes or post the real recipe.