Thursday, February 21, 2008

A quickee

Right, if you can't be civil, just pitch your comment here or go over to middle road, they seem to be trolling for trash. Lateley, they are doing the blogger equivalent of driving through a trailer park with a twelve-pack on the roof of an el camino.

Just some randomn notes from this week in UB, as I only have a few minutes before the pmpkn is up and about. Typing enthralls him and he always wants to help. Brother Amara is looking for a non-functioning keyboard for him. Might work as he is content playing with a bowl and spoon on the floor while I'm slicing and dicing. No news on the job front :( Scary food news. I was over at the NYT last week and noticed an article on food for olympians. Seems they will be bringing their own. One of the advance people did a steroid test on an oversized chicken breast and found that if consumed by an athlete, the quantities would be enough to cause a positive test for doping. We don't see many breasts here, but the legs and thighs are suspiciously large. Yech.. So much for healthy chicken soup.

Scary news item on the tv which hasn't made it's way to the English print media, but had the missus and a couple of the Doctor's friends in a tizzy. A thirteen year old girl was found after escaping from a workers compound in a city north of year. The television spouted estimates of a hundred young girls missing from their family homes in UB. Too early to tell if this is an isolated incident, mixed with hysteria, or fact, but we'll be watching.

hmmn, he's sleeping in this morning. One more tidbit on "what I like about UB" Shopping. Sorry, to be so mundame, but I love browsing in the markets. My local market is a fairly long open building with several booths supplying baked goods, several more with milk products, a half dozen with different varieties of sausage, and a basketball court sized area for meats; Goat, Mutton, Beef, Camel, and Horse. Another similarly sized area on the ground floor has fruits, vegetables, and cereal products. You can imagine the smells, one encounters. This isn't packaged food, vegetables aren't washed, the meat is being cut from hanging sides, the butter and milk products are in open containers. All in all, a treat for the eyes and nose.

I particularly like the lack of packaging, a simple bag which is then resused for garbage and that is that. For milk we can buy boxed, but the best stuff comes out of a churn, sold by two incredibly old and weathered ladies outside the market entrance. You can either bring a thermos bottle or they ladle it into a bag. Butter is cool, it comes in a four or five pound block and you just indicate how much you want hacked off. I'm glad I learned most of the basic involved in cooking from scratch, because very little is pre-mixed packaged junk. Now if I can just figure out what spices come in which packet. I'll post a picture of my spice cabinet and add it to this post later.

Cool, I like the expression in that picture. Maybe a visual expression will illuminate my shopping choices.
I'll admit to being a little shy about trying odd stuff, but if something looks particularly interesting I'll go back with the missus and see if it passes her muster. I bring back enough weird stuff by accident. Cotton balls and cream are not to be found in the markets or the western grocery store in our neighborhood this week. It happens that once in a while certain things can't be found. Not just me either, I had a talk with one of my mining friends who is married to a Mongolian woman and he expressed the same sentiments. Good, I didn't want to think I was lacking in my shopping skills. The last shortage was diapers in the pmpkns size just before the Lunar New Year. I put some miles on my boots that day.

We had a visitor yesterday evening. An older American women who lives in our building. I know her to say hi in the hallway and thought to invite her in for tea when our paths crossed. Nice lady, she is teaching english for a church group/non profit and has been living in our very building for six years. I had a great time exchanging notes with her and Erdene enjoyed speaking English with an American woman. I felt neglectful, as I hadn't thought about that experience as lacking in her day to day life. The last American woman she spoke to was the wife of a world bank guy over Christmas and she was of New Guiniean (sp?) Papaua, New Guinea, anyway) descent. Of course, I don't talk with many americans, with the exception of the good doctor, so I'll just have to extend the invitation to our neighbor more often.

An amusing incident. The pmpkn and I joined the doctor and his friends at a couple of the usual places this past Sunday. Pmpkn had a great time, although, he did discover a well cleaned glass door is not an open exit. Ouch. I really didn't think he would do it, but was close enough to keep the back of his little noggin off the granite tiles of the Grand Khan Kempinski Hotel. Anyway, that isn't the amusing part. Later, as the Doctor and his reporter friend were walking home, they were suddenly surrounded by several older Mongolian men who had just pulled up in a couple of cars. They started jostling the two of them and one made the mistake of going for the Doctor's wallet. Not a good idea, as he had been imbibing to a small amount and was in a fairly jovial mood. The Doctor is of Irish descent and starting trouble with a happy Irishman, with known temper issues, isn't the smartest thing to do when there are only three of you. Wish I had been there to see the look on their faces when their intended target turned out to be something more than a target. He said, they left their vehicles and fled in the opposite direction to his travel. Nothing fun like that ever happens to me damn it. That's it for this week in UB. Watch that chicken.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fragrant Pork Chops and Cabbage

A quick and easy dinner. No picture, other than the obligitory pmpkn snap, as I have no pork chops, although my personal assistant says they can be found in a market near my old neighborhood. Probably, right next to the ice cream store which seems to be the only reliable supply of frozen veggies in the city. Smoked chops are the bomb with this dish, occasionaly I could find apple wood chips in the ace hardware garden/grill section or the adjecant Joeten, but not often. You will also need (for four chops) half a large head of cabbage, three apples, some apple juice if cider isn't available (martigeilli's (sp?) sparkling apple juice is a good substitute for cider, as is non-alcholic sparking champagne), and an onion if you like them.

If you are really into chops, pound your favorite spices into the meat and pan fry or fry in a large heavy saucepan with a lid. I like the heavy saucepan, as there will be one less pan to clean, if you can just dump the remaning ingrediants on top of the meat. I like to add onions and the sliced apples at this point and add a little cider as they cook. When the onions are slightly soft, add juice to nearly cover what you have bring to a simmering boil (that would be just barely boiling) and add the cabbaged, sliced or shredded, either works. Cover the dish, cut the heat back a tad, so all the liquid doesn't boil off before finishing and steam, as for cabbage.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pumpkin’s Return

Thanks, Deece, for reminding me to spill the tale of Erdene’s visit in Erdenet and return voyage. Seems the lad didn’t adjust well to the ger. Warm and toasty, but he was under constant supervision, due to the woodstove in the middle of the room. Toddlers and hot metal, bad combination. He probably suffered from the lack of windows too and was crabby most of the time. Next time, we’ll do it a little differently. Like stay in a hotel. Erdene did have a funny story to tell once she recovered from the ordeal.

A traditional Mongolian New Year celebration is big on food. She brought back a tasty selection of goodies; like blueberry jam and Yak’s butter. An awesome combination. Yak butter is processed in such a way, that it resembled a thin sheet of butter yellow Styrofoam. Not the most appetizing description, I know, but a quarter-inch thick sheet of soft bubbly confection was behind me at the time. The taste is much better; slightly sweet, not fatty, sort of like eating a cloud. With blueberry jam, I found , the flavor to be everything it was rumored to be. Anyway, I digress. Mom and Dad Mashbatt were cooking for a solid week, prior to the holiday and were pretty well tapped out, by the time Erdene and baby arrived three days after the beginnings of the festivities. Erdene said, they were on their way to napping the first afternoon when some guests showed up at the door. Normally, visitors are welcome and politeness usually involves sending a short text, asking if the intended visitee is receiving. Well, this couple didn’t do that and mom and dad were well on the way to nap time, so they sent daughter Solte to the door to inform the guests that the elder Mashbatts were out. Keep in mind my Christmas mistake; when I invited people up, not knowing that once in, the host is expected to feed and entertain, until the guest decides to leave. Unfortunately, the couple decided to come in and wait. Not wanting to be caught out, Dad Mashbatt rolled under one of the beds which line one side of the Ger, Mom had to settle for kneeling behind a table. Not the best hiding spot in a one room Ger, but she was too far from a bed and had rely on the draping tablecloth to shield her. Erdene and the pmpkn were ensconced on a sofa bed and the doomed couple settled in to talk to her and Solte, while awaiting the eventual return of Mashbatt seniors. After a few minutes of small talk, Erdene was having trouble keeping a straight face as a slight turn of the man’s head would have exposed mom, kneeling with her head down against the floor, only a few feet away. And sure enough, He did and addressed Erdene’s mom, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. She had to fess up and claim tiredness, but Dad held his ground under the day bed. How he kept from laughing, I don’t know. They eventually left and dad emerged with some serious cramps, Erdene didn‘t say if he managed a nap under there.

Here are Mom and Dad with the fruits of their labors. The stacked cakes are yummy. Shaped like a life raft about ten inches long, they are closest in texture to moist shortbread and have a layer of candied apple and raisons inside. The small cookie like items on top are a selection of dried curd "milk products" The flavor takes a little getting used to, but the pmpkn likes em, so they must be good. Erdene did a great job with this picture, it's worth enlarging to see the different foods. The little stick thingee's just behind dads head are roled dough sticks, a few of which made it home, were tasty.

Pumpkin had a great time on the train ride home. It arrives in UB, well before daylight and for the last hour of the trip, people are up and about; dressing and gathering up their stuff. Pmpkn was of course awake, and thought it would be great fun to toddle along the corridor and visit with people in the various compartments. With his cute little smile, everyone else enjoyed his visits and he kept returning to Erdene in her compartment with odd little treats in his mouth. I thought it was great that he still likes strangers and he was secure enough to wander the train car by himself. He’s vocalizing now and some of the sounds resemble words or you could call them happy chortles. It will come.

I’ve had a busy week, interviewing and such. Had my first solid bite, the other day. Not in a field I was expecting, but it offers me everything I could want. Decent pay, with commissions which will equal a dammed good salary, should everything go well. Lots of contact with Mongolian business’ and the local expats and, best of all, travel throughout the countryside to visit the mines for sales calls. I have one more interview to cross and I’ll be in. The director has talked about spending a month in Moscow with a tech rep, that would be way cool. I hope I can travel one way on the train across Siberia, but there may not be time for that, as they want to jump on the spring mining season. Erdene is happy about the prospects also and has been a real trooper, in dealing with the lad, while I’m out hitting the bricks. The potential in this job is enough to wake me up with a smile at five am, as I go off to the net and research my new product. Mongolia is a huge stable expanding market with plenty of resources to fuel a sizable boom and the Mongolians are not so stuck in their ways, that they want to stay in the nineteen forties era economy which is still prevalent here. I can see making enough money over the next few months, that I can send Erdene and the lad to the states for a visit at least and that, combined with me making a good living here, meets all of my goals for now. Monday, should tell the tale. This weekend, we’re making a traditional meal of horsemeat sausage (handmade, by Mashbatt senior) so the time will pass quickly. This weekends recipe will be Pork Chops, braised with apples onions, and cabbage in apple cider. I’m nursing a pinched nerve in my arm, from sleeping on the sofa, one night while Erdene was away, but I’ll get on it soonest.

Here's the family, dressed in their traditional dreels, even the pmpkn has his own now. I would love to wear the winter fur-lined version around the city, as the style is expceptionally warm and functional, but can't get away with it, until I'm fluent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Days Redoux

Not sure whether to call this good news or bad. A little of both, I suppose. Erdene and the pmpkn are returning early from Erdenet. They are fine, just the little one hasn’t been happy there. I’m sorry for Erdene’s; mom, dad, and sister. They really enjoy their time with the little guy. I ‘m always happy to see him, and they are all welcome at our place in UB. I’ll be up at o’dark hundred to meet the train and we can work on the pmpkn’s traveling skills at a later date. I would have gone up tonight, but have a job interview Thursday Am. Such is life.

All that being said, I’d better write something tonight, as the next couple of days will be busy. What I like about Ulan Baatar. Freedom, openess, variety, limited choices. Yes, the last one is a bit tough. I can’t find everything I want always and often have to search high and low However, in the end, the product is found or dismissed as unnecessary to a happy life. The search process is always fun, and as we devoted much of our time towards procuring steady supplies of needed articles for the pumpkin, everything else is just an enjoyable journey towards the unknown. For example; Pmpkn doesn't always require pork chops, so we are happy with a realiable supply of baby mush and vitamins.

My point being; the expectation of immediate gratification isn’t a part of life here. If you want to be happy, enjoy the search. There will be always items which can’t be found, but substitutes are available and the question of; “did we really need this” is an easy one to agree on at the end of the worst day.

I’ll start a new “chicken soup” type series, shortly, which will address the subjects prior to limited choices. This is a fun city to live in, if you can let go of the expectations of western society. The people are the best and I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Giving Back

This is a special food only post. I spend more time cooking than writing.
As the pumpkin says, "Give me that, Give me that, Give me that Food.
After looking at Tamara's food post this past Friday, when I saw there was time to leave three comments to do with last week’s bacon wrapped mushrooms and other bacon related tidbits, I realized something more should be done.

A big hit this week in Ulan Baatar was “Toad in the Hole”. Sounds a little scary, but it’s an English recipe for a puff pastry known as York Shire pudding with sausage. Start with three to four good quality sausages. No, that is not an oxymoron, such as “good ox tails” On Saipan, the Joenten by the library, carries the Samoan Povi brand, “English style Bangers“, those are great although a little lacking in fat content. In all truthfulness, I was responsible for my family missing a plane flight from San Diego back to Maryland back in '94, because I saw a billboard advertising an "english breakfast with bangers" Regular brown and serve sausage are ok, but just barely cook them to start and have some fat on hand for the pan. Brown the sausages on the stove or in the oven in the baking dish (you will need the oven preheated later, anyway) While the sausages are cooking, mix a cup of flour with two beaten eggs, pinch of salt, and a cup of milk. Allow the flour/liquid mix to rest for ten minutes or so, before tossing it right ontop of the sausages,in a good sized preheated baking dish with tall sides (three inches is the minimum, unless you want to clean the oven). Bake at 350-375 degrees F for fifteen to twenty minutes. Restrain the urge to open the oven door for at least ten minutes, as the luscious puffy batter tends to fall quickly if a constant strong heat isn‘t maintained. Use a flash light through the door if the interior light doesn’t work. Once the dough rises, resist the urge to remove the pudding for at least ten minutes. You will understand my point, once you've tasted the finished product.

A couple of tips. I’ve been baking this treat on my own for the last twenty-five years,for five previous years under my English Nanny’s supervision, and have also consulted with several international baking expert. So pay attention. Number one tip is; Good flour is a misnomer. The US flour isn’t nearly as good for a puffy dough, as the varieties in UB have proven to be. Cake flour (maybe half the total) could help, if you can’t get third world flour. For some reason, the large companies pulverize the crap out of flour, as a result the rising qualities are diminished. I rented a room back in the eighties from a woman who had made a living in Europe as a baker and she was of the same opinion of the flour stateside. She did have a kick ass convection oven, which has been on my list of things to buy since. However, I managed to construct a dutch oven for a grill which fits the bill nicely and doesn’t turn the house into a sauna. I made Yorkshire pudding on the grill once, as it was first made in Yorkshire England, but that was under a sizable piece of beef on a spit, under the best conditions. It was one of the greatest cooking days of my life, when the pudding batter actually rose to its full toasty brown glory. I don’t expect it will happen again, but I’ll keep trying.

Tip Two; don’t try and halve the recipe. A quarter cup of good fat works with the flour and liquid volumes, but don’t try half a cup of flour and one egg. I’ve been using three sausages with a six by ten corning pan and the yield is tremendous. Ask my wife, if you don’t believe me. Half a recipe, yields a deficient product. Can’t say as I understand why, but take my word for it. However, if your pan isn’t big enough and you can’t break into the neighbors house; use cupcake tins and make popovers of the leftover batter. The popovers are truly awesome. A pie plate works also. Two eight inch plates with melted fat to cover the bottoms, will produce an awesome accompiant (hmmn, my google spell check is defunct, also) for roasted pork, beef, or lamb. Don’t use lamb fat though or butter. Lamb fat gives a stinky aroma and butter burns. Back when I made Yorkshire pudding often, I would keep beef fat trimmings in the freezer, against the day I could only procure a lean cut. The only disappointing feature of toad in the hole or Yorkshire pudding is that it falls shortly after coming out of the oven, but the cook can enjoy the beauty until that point. Or do as I do and call the family to kitchen as it comes out of the oven. Bon Appetit.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Where's my Pumpkin?

That's right, the missus and lad have gone off to the family Ger in Erdenet. The apartment is so still. Take away a one year old, his mother, and there is nothing. I only stayed to see about a job, but if nothing looks solid, I'm on the train ASAP. I suppose once the first hour passes, I'll feel more at home and maybe a little free, but then again, perhaps I'll minimize this screen and run a few wiggles Utube clips alongside a pumpkin and Erdene slide show.

Kids are funny, I won't have the responsibily to hold and amuse him in the Am, as mom gets a little solid rest, and while his rice juice cooks. I won't have his warm snuggly body to hold on my lap, as we laugh and sing together. I could go out and drink beer with the mining guys, but where is the fun with that? Nope, once a dad, always a dad. I've a blog nearly done, about cooking in Mongolia, with a couple recipes. At least, I have a decent piece of writing to look forward to, while they are away. Worst thing was, when I handed the pmpkn over to Erdene in their compartment, there was just the cutest little girl with her mom and dad already in residence, but the little girl had the croup. Nasty hacking deep cough. I already have the baby sickness page open, and I'll be making an appointment with the doctor for the day of their return. Yech..

Friday, February 8, 2008

Wanted to write this post for awhile now

Oh! Cool! For a couple of days, I thought I had to pick my five favorite blogs, which would be tough, as there are so many good ones from Saipan. Matter of fact, I have yet to find a group of bloggers from a community which write so well on a variety of issues. Despite the Saipan blogger schism of ’07 (nice one, Angelo) there is still a dedicated core group of members, along with some talented new comers, contributing to the loveliness which is Saipan.

In keeping with this meme’ rules; I’ve been tagged by Tamara and Glen. Two people I’ve never met, but feel as close to an uncle and aunt. Ha Ha. I’m actually between their ages, but their blogs are the ones I visit the most. Glen has the news and the jokes. Reading his blog; I don’t feel as if I’m far away from the Saipan political scene and I always leave with a laugh. Tamara, manages to combine the laughs, and shots of the beauty of the island and her family,along with the political insight of an insightful and well-balanced local resident/native, plus a huge photography talent. Being the almost sister-in-law of the island’s political star doesn’t hurt, but she puts effort and imagination into documenting political issues through her personal experiences and observations. I'm not against the fact; she likes the same foods, as the missus and me either.

Everyone else; I’ve received so much assistance, as a new dad, from the mom’s pages. Tami, the tree huggers wife, Deece, and Boni. I miss my three sisters and these ladies make up for my separation in so many ways. Actually, they all receive extra mentions; Tamara for her food tips, Deece for her humanity, faith and WWII, THW for her practical no holds-barred tips, and Boni for her practicalness and her almost super-human ability to impart her most heartfelt feelings onto the printed page.

Artsy types; Jane’s writers blog always stirs me, Kap is back and that is good, wish Harry would finish his damned book. Looking through his pictures is always fun for me and the missus, as are Marc C’s photo shop tutorials, David Khorram is just fine with both of us, wish we could make the comedy night. Bubble's, once she takes the camera off her wrist band, diving pics are artful plus the tooth care stuff is usually amusing and always informative. Mike Tripp, almost forgot him. I’m probably going to pay for his son’s college education with all the diving CD’s, I've purchased and plan to buy. What a piece of work that is. Latin identification and all the cool places to dive around. Wish the MVA would spend less on travel and just send the disk all over the mainland.

On the political side, which I don’t comment on much, but love to read about. Bruce, the sour grapes guy, and someone who went the extra mile for me, while I was on island. Jeff Turbitt, master of the well crafted paragraph, well thought out analysis' and the odd snappy line. Angelo with his devotion to all things Saipan and the environment. Brad is pretty cool, although I think he might be on the most wanted list somewhere. I owe him big for introducing me to utube, as there isn’t much available in English on the karaoke channels here. Middle Road can be and usually is, what a good paper should be. Walt for his .. Fill in this line for me someone. Walt was/is a big push, without him, there wouldn’t be this meme. He’s glue. Whenever things get rough, think of Walt and his vision.

Hope, I didn’t leave anyone out. Oh! Hope, the Gomez family, and Shazman. Great to see the new generation coming up in a literate fashion. Pmpkn is trying to make his way in the written world, but he’s a little limited these days. Still, he recognizes the comment block and tries to make his mark on the world, over the top of my poised fingers. My fervent wish; is he does as well, as the Saipan Bloggers. May the power stay on long enough to post your comments. Angelo, this meme was an excellant idea. From my own point of view; it gave me reason to thank people who have given me a great deal of help over the last few months and the excuse to finally write about the Saipan Bloggers.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Years REdux

With only a week to spare before the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, the booze ban has been lifted throughout the city. Vomit sightings increase dramatically. No joke, Mongolians seem to love to upchuck when they drink. Beer hadn't been in the local store for twelve hours, when I had to sidestep a rather large deposit frozen to the sidewalk. Saipan has it's betel nut stains, we have vomitus. Such is life.

The Lunar New Year is the big holiday here. Erdene has informed me she and the pmpkn will be traveling home to Erdenet this weekend. No debate on this one, we can argue over the WWII at Deece's, but no negotiation on this subject. The run up to holiday is fun too, the stores are full of cakes and traditional milk products (funny description, but that is the translation) I'll take a picture some day, for now, we'll just say there are a dozen varieties of dried curds from big cakes to little squiggly ones. I did manage to find an exceptional line up of mutton with the little tuft of wool still attached.

Traditionally, these are cooked whole and folded up on themselves for serving. Wish, I had a bigger oven. I think Dad Mashbatt is going to do his in a large copper kettle up at the ger, which should be interesting. I've seen pictures of the end product, but not the real deal. Anything which has "dripping icicles of fat" as part of the description is ok for me. Sort of the same appeal, as a recipe which begins with "melt two pounds of lard".

The following story is in doubt in violation of some sort of bloggers rule. I orginally left the tale of my job interview on Glens page as a comment, but felt it deserved wider distribution. I interviewed with a Caterpillar affiliate in UB yesterday, no Job for me. They have four expats and the remainder of a work force numbering 250 souls, are native Mongolians. Not an easy task here, considering we are talking about skilled technical jobs and dedicated overseers of such. The Company has four classrooms, with more audio visual equipment than most people would see in pss classrooms. I didn't check on the number of bog rolls, but as they serve lunch to all of the workers and provide transportation, I feel fairly certain they provide ample amounts of TP to the bathrooms.

Bad for me, but I was glad to see the locals getting a step up. They have had serious turnover problems, but more because the employees can't forget the fifth of vodka lunch, rather than the shop is such a bad place to work. I don't want to present another reason for the BOE to make a trip, but this company rocks. I have to say from my experience here, that the road to employment for the indigent Saipan workforce will be a long one and expensive for the employers. In the end though, I saw a succesful company, employing local workers, without the need for an excessive number of non-local managers.

In the small world catagory, the general manager's wife owned the store where I found Spam a few weeks ago. Erdene's older brother will be back from the Gobi next week and I'll be sending him over the see these people. Amazing, a business which puts their fancy ethical standards into practice.

Not much in Pmpkn news these days. He seems to be developing an actual personality, which is pleasing. Pleasing to me that is. No, seriously he gets high marks for playing well with others. Man, he loves the utube. A couple of months ago I would have taken the computer with me on my travels about town, but these days I leave it at home in case the crankiness level rises to high. Obviously, his devotion to my lap is cutting back on my verbage, but he is just so snuggly, I can't resist him. I'll try and sneak out this afternoon and catch up on my tags.