Mar 26, 2018

Taking the High Road...Literally

Paving our little dirt road has truly begun here in Nepal. Trucks filled with building supplies have been arriving daily and a crew has been working dawn to dusk. Construction is going surprisingly quick even though most everything has to be done manually. Above you see a truck full of river rock being unloaded by the basketful.

These cone-shaped baskets are how most large loads are carried here in Nepal. You will often see porters going up and down the mountains carrying all sorts of things in these baskets like produce for markets, bricks, firewood, and even trekking gear for tourists. It's a very simple but brilliant design that leaves the arms free and alleviates pressure on the shoulders. Large and bulky items can easily be transported on the steep and narrow trails that crisscross the Himalayas connecting towns and villages using these conical baskets. The young woman in the above picture is using a shawl looped around the basket and across her forehead to carry it.

When it comes to hard, physical labor men and women work side by side in Nepal. These two ladies are digging a trench with pick and shovel for the drain on the new road. The woman on the left is about 3 months pregnant. She will work up until she gives birth and then only take one day off. The maintenance and clearing of trails in the mountains are considered women's work also.

Here they're placing a layer of river rock along the bottom of the drainage trench dug by the women. If you think that drainage trench looks a bit shallow you'll see how they've chosen to deal with that in the next few photos.

A layer of concrete is placed over the river rock in the drainage trench.  Once again the concrete is both mixed and transported by hand. No fancy concrete mixer. A simple slurry is mixed on the ground with shovels and carried by the bucketful to be smoothed over the river rock.

On top of the layer of concrete over the river rocks, two low parallel walls were built. These are to be the walls of a tiny canal that will drain the road. It is my understanding that the road will be built flush to the height of these walls. If you look to the left of the photo you can see how high the top of the drainage canal is compared to the land and houses bordering the road. It is a lot higher!

In fact, this is what it looks like through our front gate! The road is going to be a full 23 inches higher than the land our house and yard are on.

His Imperial Majesty the Baacha Khan demonstrates the alarming height of the future road. As you can see this means using our driveway will be impossible without some major modifications. I really hope this drain works to keep water away from our house during the Monsoon and that our yard doesn't become a drainage pond!

And then some folks were just delighted with the new drain! Little Mr. Raju jumped right in while his sisters looked on in amusement. Or disgust?

After two weeks of road building, the crew decided to have a celebration of sorts. Anytime you see an animal tethered by its front foreleg in a field it's fairly certain there's going to be some butchering. The man holding the ax will hit the water buffalo on the head with the back of it which will stun it. Then he will either deliver the final blow by severing the spinal cord with a chop to the back of the neck or by repeatedly striking it on the head until it falls to the ground. Then the animal's throat will be slit. Sometimes the initial bonk to the head does not entirely stun the animal as desired. I have seen times when an errant blow glances off of a buffalo's head which only enraged the animal. You do not want a horned beast that weighs a metric ton mad at you. Tying the animals front leg to a post will cause it to fall down if it tries to charge you or run away.  Hopefully.  About a year ago I heard horrific screams midday coming from this very field. I looked out the window to see a water buffalo with an ax hanging from his forehead making the most horrific sound I had ever heard. Water buffaloes make grunts and groans like Chewbacca when they call to each other, when distressed they make a screech that is bloodcurdling!

The buffalo was soon skinned and dismembered on a plastic tarp. Every part of the animal will be eaten or sold to the tanners. Water buffalo meat tastes like lean, good quality beef. It is not as fatty as beef nor does it have any of the gamey taste of goat (mutton), lamb, or venison. It can be a bit tough and requires marination making it great for kebabs. We rarely eat it because Kashmiris feel it is inferior to lamb. Although Kashmiris think goat (mutton) is inferior to sheep (lamb) also.

Butchering a large animal like this is usually only a once or twice a year event for most people in Nepal. Any meat that is not eaten in a few days will be salted, seasoned with timur (Szechuan peppercorns), and dried to make a sort of jerky.

And lastly, our beloved cat Tikka passed away. Tikka was Ms. Chinger's first daughter and they were very close. When Chinger died last October Tikka became very sad. Tikka was very shy and did not like to be touched by people but lavished her affections on her brother, Baacha Khan and her mom Chinger.

Poor Tikka had suffered many a mysterious feline virus these last few years but I think Chinger's death really affected her for the worse. I was not Tikka's favorite person as I was the one administering her medications. But when she wanted anything she had no hesitation to voice her requests to me. Tikka always wanted to be a mom and would even steal kittens from other mama cats and bring them home. We will miss you Tikka.

Any major construction going on your way? 
Have any of y'all in northern climes thawed out yet?

Ciao for now,

Mar 18, 2018

Green Apple Chutney

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Try this green apple chutney for a hot and spicy way to eat your apple a day! This easy recipe pairs well with everything from rice and rotis to steaks and roast chicken.

Every great once in awhile our local market gets a load of Granny Smith apples in. Often there seems to be some confusion as to where these tart, crisp, bright green apples come from as you can see in the above photo.  It boggles my mind that the apples probably spent 2 to 3 months in a nitrogen-flushed container on a ship from the US to get all the way to Nepal. Then they had to ride on a train and a truck from a port in Mumbai or Kolkata across the searing plains of India up here. After that, I get the pleasure of buying 3-month-old apples for about $3USD a pound! Nevertheless, Pippins and Granny Smith's are my favorite apples and I buy them. I've seen several recipes for South Asian style chutneys combining green apples and cilantro all over the internet. The combination sounded intriguing but few of the recipes suited my family's tastes. Too sweet, too tart, too bland were the complaints. After much trial and error, this is the recipe I've come up with for a green chutney using green apples. It has a nice balance of tart to sweet while garlic, ginger, and chilis give it some spicy heat. We enjoy this chutney with rice but it would also pair well with barbecued meats, kebabs, Mexican dishes, or roast chicken or turkey. Eating healthy is easy when it tastes this good!

1 tart green apple, cored and chopped (leave the skin on)
2 C cilantro/dhania, leaves and stems roughly chopped
1 TBS oil of choice (I use rice bran oil or virgin olive oil)
2 tsp ginger/adrak paste or 1-inch fresh ginger
2 tsp garlic/lahsun paste or 2 cloves garlic
1-2 green chilis/hari mirch (omit for less heat)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Kashmiri mirch or chili powder (omit or use less for less heat)
1 TBS lime juice or 1 TBS white vinegar

Here's what to do:
1) Whiz all ingredients in a mixie, blender, or food processor to a fine paste. Salt to taste.

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 2) Keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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Helpful Hints:
Chutney keeps for 4-5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 If the chutney is too sour for you try adding a pinch of sugar to sweeten it up.

 If the chutney is too hot for you try adding a tablespoonful of yogurt to cool it down.

I know I'm a day late but Happy St Patrick's day!

Mar 11, 2018

Garam Masala Spiced Almonds

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Garam Masala Spiced Almonds are the perfect healthy snack with a kick. The bold flavors of traditional Indian spices make these nuts addictively delicious!

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Typically when you pay a casual visit to a household in India or Nepal you are served a warm drink, something salty, and something sweet. The drink is usually sweet, milky chai (tea) or sweetened "milk coffee." The salty item can be anything from readymade chaat mixes to potato chips. The sweets are usually biscuits or cake. (I've even been served some unique combinations such as cake and potato chips.) Garam Masala Spiced Almonds are something I started making to serve guests before we could buy readymade chaat mixes (like Haldirams) in packets here in Nepal. It seemed a natural choice as almonds are a favorite treat in my husband's native Kashmir. I'm not sure where I originally found this recipe but I suspect it may have been from the legendary Canadian Chef Vikram Vij.

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Parsi-Style Garam Masala
Over the years I've added and altered the recipe to our tastes. Instead of cayenne, I use Kashmiri mirch for a richer chili kick. Lime juice adds a tart zing in place of the sweeter amchur/mango powder sometimes. Adding asafoetida/hing or garlic powder was entirely my idea to add an umami boost to the mix. You may certainly vary the flavor by using different regional versions of garam masala blends. You'll find recipes for Garam MasalaParsi Garam Masala, Kashmiri Garam Masala, Nepali Garam Masala, and Mughlai Garam Masala on this blog. The oil you choose to make this recipe with can change the flavor a great deal too. Using coconut or sesame oil adds a rich, traditional note while flavorless oils like canola and sunflower oils add none. You can even use raw cashews in this recipe too but be sure to roast them separately from almonds as they cook faster. I hope you'll love this recipe as much as my family does! Off to the recipe:

1 TBS garam masala
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch or cayenne powder
1 tsp mango powder/amchur or 2 tsp lime/lemon juice
1/4 tsp asafoetida/hing or garlic powder (optional)
 2 TBS vegetable oil of choice oil
 3 C raw almonds or cashews
2-3 tsp salt to taste 

Here's what to do:
1) Preheat oven to 350F. Place rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

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2) In a large bowl, combine spices, and oil. Add almonds or cashews and stir until well coated. Pour coated nuts onto a baking sheet and spread out evenly over the pan.

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3) Bake for 6-8 minutes. Stir with a spatula or spoon, return to oven and bake an additional 6 minutes. Be careful not to burn or scorch the nuts- if the almonds start to turn dark brown around the edges they are burnt. Remember that the almonds will continue cooking for a few minutes after you remove them from the oven.
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4) Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour before serving. Store in an air-tight container for up to one month in a cool, dry place.

Helpful Hints: 
If after roasting the nuts are not salted enough for your taste simply sprinkle additional salt and stir them with a spatula or shake them in a jar.

If you are making this recipe with raw cashews be sure to shorten the cooking times by 4-5 minutes.

Mar 5, 2018

March, the Month of Wind, Taxes and Flowers!

Yes, it's the blustery, balmy, and boisterous month of March here on this planet we call home! We started off with the festival of Holi last Friday. Yours truly did not participate in the festivities but as you can see in the above photo plenty of other firangis (foreigners) did! Holi is a movable feast that somehow always manages to usher in Spring!

Speaking of Spring and colors here are some gorgeously scarlet petunias just beginning to bloom in my garden. They're one of those new-fangled breeds that hold their trumpets upright and do not trail like old-fashioned petunias do. Not sure if that's truly an improvement

Speaking of things red and floral the Sheikh brought me 21 red roses for Valentine's day! I had completely forgotten it was Valentine's day! Flowers typically come prearranged like this in India and Nepal. Rarely do you see bouquets in cellophane sleeves like you do in western countries. It's kind of neat because you don't need a vase. Just place the foam brick of the arrangement in a bowl or dish of water.

Speaking of roses I didn't know that David Austin had a rose named after Kate Middleton! Apparently, the world-renowned rose grower from the Midlands brought out two new roses for the royal couple in 2011 also.  Where have I been? According to the David Austin website:

"Kate is beautiful at all stages as the long elegant buds with attractive, silvery magenta pink outer petals gradually open to wide blooms of up to four inches across. The David Austin Wedding Rose Kate has many magenta pink petals which give the overall impression of rich raspberry pink. As the roses age, the petals deepen in color, taking on hints of purple. The flowers are fully double with exquisitely waved outer petals. Over time golden yellow stamens are eventually revealed. The mature flowers are in the style of 18th and 19th century Gallicas, with some of the characters of both Charles de Mills and Tuscany Superb, which are generally considered amongst the most beautiful of all roses. The fragrance is a beautifully balanced, pure rose fragrance with what our fragrance expert, Robert Calkin, describes as having a “touch of after-rain freshness”. There are also subtle hints of raspberry, redcurrant, geranium, and bergamot. The fragrance varies in intensity as the flower ages." 

I wants me the preshusssss!

Speaking of things rosy and raspberry, I found this at our local departmental store. Yes, it is a can of air freshener named "Aromas of Kashmir." Air Wick is a British owned American brand trying to establish itself in India. This looks to be an attempt to appeal to Indian tastes with a line of home fragrance called "Scents of India." A paragraph on the back of the can promises "a unique and tender mix of roses and saffron fills your home with sweet and romantic moments." That sounded interesting enough for me to hand my $3 over for it! Upon spraying it I was a bit disappointed. The scent is vaguely recognizable as rose. There is something faintly warm and woodsy lingering in the fragrance that might be saffron I suppose. Mostly it's about fake raspberry with a lot of white musk. Actually, all the floral Air Wick scents had this flat raspberry note. C'mon Air Wick! This is India! We don't do twee raspberry here! We know what rich and sunny saffron should smell like and we love a velvety Taif or Damask rose!

Speaking of smelly things does anyone recall this fragrance from the swingin' seventies? Yes, it's Paco Rabanne pour Homme! This was an "old man" scent when I was a teen in the 80's. The sort of thing balding middle-aged men sporting top-stitched polyester leisure suits, white patent Gucci loafers, gold chains, and gradient aviator sunglasses would wear. A client gifted my husband a bottle of this at Christmas time. What an absolute classic! It has changed over the years. The oakmoss has been dialed down and the honey note seems to have all but disappeared. Laurel and sage still provide herbal greenness but a rather loud 70's style animalic musk still is the star of the show. It's a bit like a posh version of that other 70's hit Irish Spring deodorant soap. Fabulous performance with great longevity and tasteful sillage when applied with restraint. I love it!

More smelly things! This is Jeanne Arthes' Extreme Limite Energy which I found at our local departmental store for about $7USD. It's a passable dupe for the very $$$s Chanel Allure Homme Sport. Same citrus and ozone blast at the opening fading to vetiver with a base of white musk, slightly sweet amber, and tonka. It is missing the Chanel's black pepper note. Other than that adequate longevity and sillage for 6-8 hours even in South Asian Monsoon humidity and heat. A lovely light and brisk freshie for the men in your family when the summer heat kicks in. The bottle is positively hideous though.

Speaking of heat here's the ongoing battle in our neighborhood. This Mexican standoff of sorts is our very own HIM the Baacha Khan vs his arch nemesis the Djinn Cat. The initial contest involves long hours of sitting atop walls facing each other while growling and yowling. The wall should preferably be as close to a neighbor's window in order to be as thoroughly annoying as possible. Djinn Cat is an intact feral tomcat, HIM the Baacha Khan is decidedly not. This never ends well. So before things get too vicious and the neighbors get too miffed I usually squirt them with the hose forcing an immediate cease and desist on both sides. The bottom photo is HIM the Baacha Khan sulking away after Bibi put a watery kibosh on his caterwauling.

Sometimes these territorial kitty wars do escalate to fisticuffs and such was the case later that same day. The next day after the fight HIM the Baacha Khan developed a walnut-sized abscess over his left eye. I spent 20 minutes draining and debriding that mess on one very unhappy cat. This was followed by a 5-day course of antibiotics and our patient is now fit enough to fight again. You can see the scar in the photo over his left eye. Some possibly useful information: The Indian pressure cooker makes a great jugadi autoclave and dental floss makes for adequate kitty proof sutures.

Our newest member of the family is doing well too. Naughty Spotty has revealed himself to be quite the character! When the Sheikh (my husband) picked him out I thought he'd be quite shy. Spotty was hiding under a table at the adoption center when we first saw him and when we picked him up. I figured he'd be one of those sorts of cats that would hide under the sofa for a month or two before reluctantly engaging with his new owners. WAS I WRONG! Spotty has been all over this house like gangbusters. He loves people and greets everyone with sandpaper kisses and purrs. Unfortunately his new Aunty Tikka and Uncle Baacha Khan aren't thrilled with him. The hostilities have subsided from hisses and growls to complete indifference. This has not deterred Spotty from trying to engage his older housemates with adoring headbutts, tail pulling, and even flying leaps off of the bookcases on top of them. HIM the Baacha Khan refuses to eat in Spotty's presence, HARUMPH!

Our road is being paved. Civilization is coming to our door. Or at least a backhoe loader came and dug a four-foot trench along each side of our road. There's the neighborhood homeowners committee looking on gleefully at the arrival of the tractor. As you can see by the blue-roofed bus stop our road sits about 12-15 feet below the main road. On the left side of the road, there is a 150-bed clinic and hospital. There is a steep little frontage road that connects our road to that main road above by the bus stop. Unfortunately, drainage has been a problem in the past with water flooding down that steep frontage road directly into the hospital compound. That retaining wall and frontage road have been rebuilt three times in order to mend flood damage. I hope they take these drainage issues into consideration building the new road.

And here's the aforementioned backhoe loader just inches from our front gate. Now we have a four foot wide and two foot deep trench to jump across right out side our gate. No further work has been done since this tractor tore up the road last week. We're just renting so we have no say in the matter. Sigh.

I'll leave you with this photo of the notorious B.K. doing his best hoodlum pose. I hope he doesn't go the way of Tupac.

Not much else going on around here, anything happening your way?
Has Spring sprung where you're at or is it still miserably wintry?

Toodle pip!

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