Hosting Local Friends

Now that we have been here over a year, we have been able to build some good relationships with local people. Because of this, they are inviting us to their houses, and we are inviting them to our apartment. Unlike hosting our friends in America, hosting in Central Asia is at least a three, usually a 4 course event.

When guests arrive, you need to have the table set and filled with snacks, salads, fruits, candies, etc. They usually have at least two different kinds of homemade and often mayo based salads. After the salad course, usually something small like meat pastries or soup is served. The third course in this part of the world is most often pilov. We have heard locals say they eat pilov sometimes 3 or 4 times a week. The final course includes fruit and/or other deserts. This means locals are usually making a minimum of 4 dishes from scratch. On top of that, everything must be prepared the day of and buying salads from the grocery is considered cheating.

The good in all of this, guests here are honored and valued. You give a guest your very best and it encourages me to be love people well. It also means when I am a guest, I am treated as such, and we are given the best seats in the house.

Lesson Learned: Take some of this back to America. It is a good thing to make people feel special. 

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Cooking Thai-style

My husband’s work took us to Thailand for a business trip. During one of our free afternoons, I took a cooking class. While there are a lot of touristy things to do here this is one that I would highly recommend. You get to eat a lot, interact with the culture, cook on vacation, get some new recipes, and in general, have a good time. Most of the cooking schools do a lot of the legwork for you, so despite the fact that you are cooking on your vacation, it is a pleasant and easy experience. The school I chose picked me up from my hotel, included all of the ingredients, let me choose which dishes I wanted to cook and provided me with a cookbook of all the recipes. In a full day course, you usually cook 7-8 dishes, but in the afternoon course, I was able to make 3 entrees and a curry paste. The dishes which I made were Pad Thai, Holy Basil Chicken, Phanang Curry Paste and Phanang Curry.

I loved all of it. The curry paste was by far the most work, and sadly is the least reproducible due to the fact that not all of the ingredients are available in Central Asia. Knowing this, I bought a few things like coconut milk from a Thai grocery store called Tesco Lotus before getting back on the plane.

 

Lesson Learned: Skip the elephant ride and take a cooking class.

Signs of Summer

Yes, it is still the beginning of May, but since Spring started at the end of February, it is starting to feel like summer already. We have had a few 90 degree days, but I know it is only bound to get hotter. Before it gets too hot, we are enjoying lots of strawberries, sitting outside  under umbrellas and drinking fancy lemonades.

Since strawberries are seasonal, we are buying, eating and preserving as many as we can. In addition to eating them with pancakes and yogurt, I have made strawberry muffins, cake, smoothies, and (Benjamin’s favorite) cookies. The cookies were a surprising hit with our language teacher who tries to eat healthy. With no refined sugars and plenty of oats, we have been eating these cookies for breakfast. Here is the recipe if you are interested: Strawberry Oatmeal Cookies.

In other news, I have been on a Mexican kick this week making beef barbacoa and chicken enchiladas with Spanish rice. I thought getting my Mexican fix would be a laborious process since some of the essential ingredients are not accessible. Fortunately, a local woman has learned to make flour tortillas and sells them at a great price. Also, I brought a lot of spices with me which allows me to make enchilada sauce from scratch. Both turned out great, so if you want those recipes, here they are: Beef Barbacoa and Chicken Enchiladas.

Lesson Learned: Maybe I shouldn’t make really spicy food when it gets hot out.

Pilaf

I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this dish yet. It is a staple in Central Asia, and it goes by more names then any other dish that I have heard of. Pilaf, plov, pilau, osh, plof… the list goes on, but they all have a few basic ingredients in common. While different countries and different regions vary the recipe a little, they all have rice, meat, onions and carrots, oh and oil… a lot of oil. Unless there is a pool of oil at the bottom of your plate, it’s not good pilaf.

In a country where we don’t trust the street food, pilaf has become our fast food. Most local places only serve it from 11:30-3:00, and it is always ready in a giant cast iron drum. So we can walk into a restaurant, order and have food on the table in less than 5 minutes. We always order the same thing: one black tea with lemon, one bread and two portions of pilaf. It is fast. It is cheap, and it is filling. What more could you want? (Oh.. and we eat it at least once a week and haven’t gotten sick from it yet!)

Lesson learned: When in Rome…

Christmas Sweets

Christmas is about much more than the decorations that may or may not be up in my apartment. It is about more than what is in the stockings. It is about celebrating a birth that brought tidings of comfort and joy.

My husband and I are trying to celebrate while we are far from friends and family, and it is difficult to remember that Christmas is even coming, let alone the reason that we celebrate. To help me focus on “the reason for the season,” I made a countdown calendar. I am reading a John Piper book, and I made Christmas cookies.

There are, no doubt, millions of cookie recipes, but this one continues to be one of my favorites. It is chock full of white chocolate, which I hate. Maybe this is one of the reasons that it is one of my favorite cookies. If it can transform an ingredient that I loathe into something that I love, it has to be good. Seriously, if you walked up to me and handed me a piece of white chocolate, I would either throw it in the trash or save it for this recipe. I am not neutral on white chocolate. In high school I did a research paper on the history of chocolate and declared that white chocolate is NOT chocolate.

Moving past my extreme dislike for white chocolate, these cookies are beyond great. Over the years that I have been making this recipe, everyone has loved them and asks me for the recipe. That is always a good sign.

Lesson Learned: It is good to try new things, but it is never bad to stick with a good thing (as long as it is these white chocolate raspberry cookies). IMG_2513

These boots

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These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. I love fall. I love my boots, and I love to walk. It is especially fortunate that I love to walk because I am doing a lot of walking all over this new city of ours. As I walk around, I try to enjoy the fall leaves as much as I can because I have learned that in Central Asian countries, they sweep them up as quickly as they can… like on a daily basis. Until winter comes, I will enjoy make the most of it.

To make fall feel more like home, I bought a pumpkin at the bazaar, roasted it, pureed it, and turned it into pumpkin bread. I used this recipe, thank you very much Pinterest!

Lesson Learned: Enjoy fall while you have it. Winter is coming…

Fresh Pasta

A couple of years ago for my birthday a wonderful friend gave me a pasta machine. I was elated… but afraid to use it, and therefore it sat in its box until now. This last week I decided to be adventurous and attempt pasta making. Thankfully, I only documented the parts that made me look successful and failed to document the dough making process, which turned into a mess. Lesson #1 learned from pasta making: Make a big enough well in the flour to accommodate all of the eggs and still have room to stir.

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Lesson #2 is equally as important: Flour the noodles after cutting them. I did some flouring but not quite enough because a quarter of the noodles ended up looking like some sort of play dough disaster and became inseparable.

Overall, I would do it again. Having learned those lessons, I think that I would be more successful on my next time around.