30 June 2008

Tunguska Event

I can't believe I also missed writing about the Tunguska Event today, one hundred years after it happened (Of course, I could save it for tomorrow, since it happened on the morning June 30, 1908. In my time zone, that was early this evening.) I think that reading about this years ago was what first got me interested in Siberia and made me realize that there was a lot more to Siberia than gulags.

A few things always come to mind when I think about this- how lucky that it hit in one of the most desolate places on the planet, but since the location is so remote, how little we really know about it, and how unfortunate that the political situation at the time didn't allow for much early investigation.

And it's always fun to check every few years to see what new theories are out there explaining it. I especially like to find what the Evenki thought it was. Maybe someday I'll be able to see The Tunguska Project.

29 June 2008

Here's a perfect summary of the other reason I didn't like Three Cups of Tea as much as most everyone else does. Again, it's definitely an inspiring story. But the book, and yes, even CAI, could have been so much more with a little more organization and education. Reinventing the wheel, indeed. CAI is not the first to attempt international development and even though it has become sustainable, so many mistakes clearly detailed in the book could have been avoided.

27 June 2008

Hand-Stretched Noodles

Beyond the Great Wall has several noodle recipes, and we tried the Kazakh noodles last night. They are hand-stretched noodles that require no equipment, unless you want to use a food processor for the dough. They were amazingly easy to prepare and my oldest son thought they tasted great and had fun making them. I wish I'd though to take a picture of all the noodles hanging on the backs of our kitchen chairs before we cooked them.

For a hearty four servings, combine 2 cups of flour, a 1/2 tsp salt, and egg, and then about 1/2 cup warm water to make a nice dough in the food processor. Knead briefly on a floured surface, then divide in half and roll the dough into long rectangles about 15"x4". Then cut them (we used a pizza cutter) into 1/4"-1/2" strips, crosswise (so they're 4"x1/2" Cover with plastic and let rest 30-120 minutes. Once the dough has rested, start heating a big pot of water while you stretch the noodles and find some helpers. Take one strip of dough and, starting at one end, pinch and stretch the noodle till it's nice and long, at least 15" (most of ours were longer). Keep your fingers and the noodle floured, and then when it's stretched, lay on a floured surface or hang over the back of a chair. When the water is boiling and the noodles are all stretched, boil them for about 6 minutes and drain.

If you want to make them ahead of time, just leave them to dry on the chairs, then cook them when you're ready. Easy as can be.

I used the noodles in laghman and won't be going back to using udon noodles again. They were delicious.

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a TimeI've finally gotten around to reading Three Cups of Tea after hearing about it 2 years ago, before it became wildly popular. There was more than one reason why I didn't read it then, but since we're doing it for our book group, it was time to read it.

First of all, this is a review of the book. This is not a review of Greg Mortenson's amazing efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, nor really anything about him. That sort of review would be five stars. Despite some mistakes, and some pretty stupid ones at that (getting kidnapped and the defacement of his passport? those and several other things could and should have been avoided with a bit more education on Mortenson's part), Greg Mortenson has, through sheer tenacity, been an almost unmatched force for good there.

But I can't say I was impressed with the book. The unfortunate subtitle, mediocre writing, and the author's agenda all were problems. Yes, the subtitle has been changed in some editions, but the terrorism one still is too widespread, and if you've read the book, you'd know that terrorism subtitle doesn't fit Greg Mortenson's goals.

Relin, the one who actually writes the book, definitely sounds like a journalist. The entire book sounded like a long magazine article, except for a few forays into lofty and phony-sounding sentences. The book didn't flow at all and I just slogged through the last one hundred pages. And what was up with details about Mortenson's failed relationship? We heard more about that girlfriend than his wife, Tara. Tara practically disappeared from the book after making an appearance for a few pages. Even though the book is over three hundred pages, I didn't get three hundred pages worth out of it.

I also felt that Relin had an agenda that didn't match up with Mortenson's goals, at least as I understood his goals from reading the book. I felt that Mortenson builds schools because he wants to make individual lives better, the lives of the people he loves in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Relin almost makes it sound like Mortenson had a political agenda, especially by the end of the book.

The love for the people and places didn't come through the way I'd hoped and that's why I wanted to read it. Still, Mortenson's story is valuable and inspiring, and from all the hype, most people don't have the same problems with it I did, so I'd recommend it.

25 June 2008

Canned Ground Beef

My mother-in-law gave us a box of canned chicken an beef. Raw beef. With lots and lots of fat. Since I am not willing to adulterate my one beef meal for the month with this stuff, my husband has had a great time thinking up all sorts of beefy meals to feed himself. Meals that I don't have to eat, which works, since there's more than one meal I make that he doesn't care much for.

But since I like wraps, the canned chicken has some potential. I made some tortillas (tortillas are so easy to make, it's not worth buying them) the other day and filled them the canned chicken mixed with yogurt, chili paste, garlic, and salt; and some carrot salad. That carrot salad is becoming a staple around here. I put it on all sorts of things.

24 June 2008

5 Other Reasons to Study Arabic

Besides the ones you always hear. In other words, reasons that don't have to do with terrorism or national security. It's worse now, but even when I was studying Arabic in the mid 90s it was always assumed it was related to terrorism or security.

1. It's unique, especially if you can tell people you're not studying it to become a terrorism expert.

2. It's interesting. I love the grammatical system of Arabic and it's always worth learning a language to see how another group of people looks at the world.

3. Business. Yes, even though you only hear about terrorism in Arab countries, there are business opportunities there just like there are in China or Sweden or any other place.

4. To learn more about Islam. No matter where in the world you go, if you know some Arabic, you'll be able to make connections with Muslims even if their native language isn't Arabic (and it isn't for most Muslims). Unquestionably if you want to do anything with Islam, study Arabic.

5. But the main reason I studied Arabic (and any other language) is that it opens up communication with millions more people. Non-verbal communication stories are great, but it's just not the same. Arabic is the 5th most common language in the world. That's a lot of interesting people to talk to.

Mango Summer Or Why I Don't Eat Locally

It used to be that mangoes sold at regular grocery stores were usually pretty nasty. I'd try on every so often only to be sorely disappointed that it tasted and smelled more like gasoline than something I'd want to eat. But I'm finally learning how to choose good ones, and the quality of mangoes in grocery stores in my neck of the woods is a lot higher than it was 10 years ago. I haven't quite converted my husband and older son, but middle son and I are enjoying mango season.

I really could do the eating locally thing if it weren't for the fruit. (I did eat locally one year, when we were in Kyrgyzstan, and the produce was what I missed.)

13 June 2008

Booking Through Thursday

I'm finally doing Booking Through Thursday

A combo of two suggestions by Heidi and by litlove

Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

I've been part of 3 book groups. Two were with church, and the one I'm in now is mostly made up of members of my church, but it's not a church group. In the first one, the woman who hosted the meeting would choose the next book. There really wasn't an assigned person to lead the discussion, although I was the closest thing to it since I was assigned to be in charge. There were about 5-6 women who would come and we read a variety of books. The next one had the books chosen by the group, with strong influence from the assigned leaders, and the woman in charge would ask someone to lead the discussion (although it was more often a presentation, unfortunately) and someone else to host. My current group is the more traditional method of the hostess choosing the book the month before and leading the discussion. I think all three methods worked, although if you have women who obsess about cleanliness, it may be best for the hostess to not have to lead the discussion too. I also think it's a good idea to plan ahead a few months, or even for the whole year, so more people have a chance to read the books.

Whether or not reading the book as group affects the experience depends entirely on the group. In my first two groups, no, it didn't affect my reading. But it does, very much, in this group. This group though has more dedicated and wide-ranging readers and it is pure joy to discuss books with them. I even take notes sometimes.

I've never read a book for a group that I didn't like, but that's only because I moved the month one group chose that silly Gone with the Wind. I'm still not sure if I would have read it that month. I do not feel obliged to like any book though, and if any book group I was in evolved to just reading say, LDS books or self-help books or best sellers for example, I'd quit.

And for what it's worth, Reading Lolita in Tehran was a spectacular success at our last meeting.

12 June 2008

Still Here

My 2-bedroom apartment is overrun with boys this week. Fortunately the extra boys live in our building so they can go to their apartment to sleep or I don't think anyone would get any sleep at night. Only 36 hours left...

I need to catch up on books and recipes. And I really need to start write down ideas for posts when I think of them because there's rarely time to sit at the computer when I do.

3 months till we move. Still no good housing options in the new city, but I'm still very pleased about the change. I'm thinking this will turn back into a Central Asia blog in the fall. As long as my husband takes that Central Asian politics class.

04 June 2008

Rice Pudding That Doesn't Burn

I never much liked rice pudding until I went to the Middle East where I discovered a new world of rice pudding and ways to make it. Koshari and rice pudding were my favorite lunch in Cairo and we sometimes had rice pudding in people's homes. When I got back to the US, I found a decent recipe in a Jewish cookbook that called for Cream of Rice that I could usually make without burning.

But then I started trying more authentic recipes (sorry, but Cream of Rice isn't quite authentic, although it's easier) and also discovered that I couldn't make rice pudding without burning it. I burned through lots of recipes (and I don't burn food). I tried some several times and always had to throw the whole mess out.

I knew my problem was cooking rice in milk, so I looked through my cookbooks for a few recipes that add the milk after the rice was cooked and tried those in the last week or two. And finally, I've made rice pudding successfully. For now, one uses broken rice and the other uses black sticky rice, both of which are available at Asian stores.

Tibetan Rice Pudding (from Beyond the Great Wall)
3 c water
1 c broken rice
pinch of salt
3 c milk (or a combination of milk and coconut milk)
1/2 c dried apples, chopped (I didn't have any on hand when I made it the first time, so I left out the apples, but they are good)
3 T honey (or more, to taste, especially if you don't have apples)
2 T butter (optional, I didn't add it)

Boil the water, rinse the rice, and add the rice to the water. Lower the heat and cook, covered for about 15 minutes till most of the water is absorbed and the rice is soft. Add the salt, milk, and apples, then bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every so often (or rather more, if you're nervous like me). After 30 minutes, add the honey. The pudding will be very thick. It's really good with salted pistachios.

Black Sticky Rice Pudding (from Hot Sour Salty Sweet)

Bring 3 cups of water and 2 cups of black sticky rice to a boil, let it boil for a couple minutes (make sure to stir!), then cover and reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, then turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook, still covered, for another 30 minutes till the rice is done. Just before it's finished combine 2 cups of coconut milk (one can, usually) with 1/2 tsp salt and 3/4 c brown sugar in a pot. Stir to help the sugar dissolve, then bring just to a boil. Pour the sweetened milk into the rice when the rice is cooked. It's lovely served with mango.

I'd never used black rice before last night, so when it looked and smelled like black beans while it was cooking, I wasn't too excited, but the pudding was delicious. Simply amazing.

Over 6 Billion Spammed

This comment (the last one) on an old post referring to the infamous Amazon reviewer was too good to go unnoticed.

03 June 2008

It's Not Over Yet

Through a rather convoluted process, my middle son is a Penguins fan. I've never watched much hockey before, but this season I have. It's nice his chosen team made it to the finals this year. The entire family is enjoying hockey now. Well, most of the family at least.

I do like learning about the things my family is interested in. I remember my mother did that when we were growing up.

Yes, It Was a Bunch of Junk

The NYTimes agrees that Luttwak's Op-Ed a few weeks ago was pretty much worthless.

I would be in bed, but the Penguins game is never-ending.