Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

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An Ode to Apple Butter

I was first introduced to apple butter after I married my husband. You will always find a jar of apple butter in my mother-in-law’s fridge and if our niece is around that jar has to be replaced pretty much on a weekly basis. Other than putting apple butter on the traditional suspects, such as biscuits and toast, she would put it on top of her eggs and occasionally just have a spoonful. My husband is also a fan, although not quite to that extent.

So, when we started our recent apple canning project, I suggested that we do apple butter in addition to apple sauce. I was a bit nervous about the apple butter endeavor because apple butter was not as familiar to the other worker bees on the project (Sarah and LaVena). I hated to pull them into making something that they might not like. Oh well, it was a risk worth taking.

It was a two day project. We picked the 60 lbs (27 kg) of apples from our friends’ backyard.

about half of the apples we picked

about half of the apples we picked








Unfortunately, none of us has invested in an apple peeler/corer so we peeled and chopped the apples by hand. That was the majority of the work.

We even got the guys involved!

We even got the guys involved!








We used nearly 50 cups of sugar, 15 tsp of cinnamon, and 5 tsps of cloves. We were able to can nearly 10 jars of both apple sauce and apple butter. The marvelous smell of the cooking apples and spices was better than any candle I’ve ever bought and was a definite plus to the work. A few of the jars didn’t seal so we each got one already opened jar to immediately put in the fridge (oh darn!). We did this canning project just last weekend and we’ve already easily gone through 1/3 of our jar. The Donas have admitted that they’ve already practically finished off their first jar. The Jumps aren’t complaining about their apple butter either. I think the risk paid off and this will definitely be a repeat for next year’s canning season.

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Half the Man You used to be

Me and my daughter, April 2011

My daughter and me, April 2011

My family and I moved to Central Asia eleven months ago, landing in Kazakhstan briefly before heading south for Kyrgyzstan. When we arrived I was an out of shape 225lb man. One of the major differences between life here and life in Memphis is how much more I walk here than I ever have stateside. Another big one is the amount of fresh foods we eat rather than the processed, preserved staples of the other side of the pond. Put it together and you have what I call the Central Asian Diet.

I knew I had lost some weight very quickly. Just a week or two into our new lives in Almaty, I fell on the ice and injured my elbow. At the doctor I learned I had lost about ten pounds. I thought that was good but didn’t think much else about it. When we moved to Kyrgyzstan, I really started walking a lot. Every day I walked at least a couple of miles to get around to classes, tutoring, shopping, etc. More weight came off quickly.

I didn’t realize the difference these lifestyle changes had really made until this summer. I got to see some people I hadn’t seen in quite some time, as in minimum of a year. One person in particular came up to me and said, “Scott, you’re half the man you used to be!”

About the same time I had to start getting some new clothes as all mine are too big now. I guess it has finally sunk in that my weight loss is somewhat significant. I know I feel better. I can’t say anything about looking better but I hope that is true too. So what is the bottom line you say? As of a month or so ago, (I need a battery in my scale) I’m at 185lb, down a total of 40lb. All of that was off by May and it seems to have stabilized now. This is one case where being half the man you used to be is definitely a good thing.

Family picture at the lake, June 2012

with the family at the lake, June 2012

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Soul Food

Opening a care package

opening a package from home

Last week we caved and bought a bottle of Tabasco sauce that cost over $10. You learn to get by without American goodies, and even find some things that are better than good ol’ American products (See Makseem, by derrickdona), but sometimes that little itch just gets to you. So here is my list of things that should not be taken for granted:

1. Dr. Pepper ©: This is a drink that has no comparison. It must be drunk slowly and every sip appreciated. Last summer Dr. Pepper made its way to Bishkek. Although expensive (just under $2 for one can), it satisfied the craving whenever we were able to afford it. It wasn’t a popular drink among the locals and it quickly went on clearance. Needless to say we bought over 20 cans when it reached its lowest price, 50 cents. We still have a few cans hidden somewhere, to be consumed when the time is right.

2. Tabasco ©: Being from the southwest we’ve yearned for some nice hot chile since we haven’t been able to get our hands on anything hot enough. This helps us satisfy our need for “burn” and we’ve used it for every meal since we bought it. I should add that we have found a less expensive alternative: Little hot chile peppers that are a cross of Hatch green chile  and jalapenos.

3. Tortilla Chips: The foundation for nachos, we used to be able to buy them here but, alas, they’ve fallen into the category of non-attainables. When we were able to get them it cost about $5-$10 a bag. We’ve been able to somewhat get by making our own by frying lavash.

4. Cream cheese: The magical basis for cheesecake, it can be obtained but at a price of $5-$7 a stick. I have a recipe for little cherry turnovers (that are simply divine) that calls for this magical ingredient but I have not been able to work up the justification for such a purchase…yet.

5. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ©: While not my go-to candy, it does satisfy when a bit of Americana is needed. While there are several types of American candy (i.e. Snickers ©, M&M’s ©, Skittles ©) that we can get here peanut butter cups must be mailed in. Note: the bite-sized ones make great package filler.

In our minds these seemingly mundane, ordinary items are considered luxuries and worth savoring. I’ve been amazed at what I find myself missing (like Spam, Velvetta mac and cheese, a Reuben sandwich, Craisins), things that are no big deal back home but have somehow found their place in my stomach, err, heart. Part of the adventure in living so far away from home is the chance to find new things that will somewhat hold you over till you can indulge in the things that you love.

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Fast Food

Outside a local fast food placeWhen we first moved to Karakol, we heard of a new “fast food” place. I was pretty excited to see this business start. I am a big fan of the fast food chain “Begemot” that is famous in Bishkek. Upon first glance, the small company looked as if it had all its ducks in a row.

It looked modern, compared to the other cafes in town.

It looked appetizing.

It looked professional.
And the name brand seemed appealing, colored in red and white (KFC anyone?).

There was a great amount of expectation in my mind. How is it going to taste? I have been to numerous fast food stands in Bishkek and most of them taste the same. I was expecting the same taste from this new café in Karakol. The first time I tried out the café, I ordered a burger and fries, nothing new. I tried the burger and I was very satisfied. It was juicy, fresh, with plenty of meat. Fast food places usually pile a mountain of “salad” into burgers and then drown it all in mayonnaise and ketchup. This fast food place did a great job of not killing the burger with fluff. The fries I ordered were hot and delicious. Not too salty, not underdone, nor overdone. It was a great fast food experience that I would be glad to repeat.

The second time I returned, they told that the meat would not be ready until 1pm, after lunch time! So I thought that this was a little bit odd. “It’s a fast food place that is located across from the university that does not have food ready by 12pm” I thought. Well, maybe it was just a one-time mistake.  The third time I returned, they told me that they would not have a shwarma (aka:  central Asian burrito) until after 1pm. I started to see a pattern. The fourth time I returned, they said “we will have no meat until tomorrow.”  I laughed out loud from my gut, it tickled me so much.

My best experience was my first time at the café. I suppose it’s hard for a café to start up successfully if they constantly have no food. I long for the day when I can walk by the place and get the amazing burger I remembered when I first ate there. But that might be asking too much. Then again, this is probably a sign that I should lay off the burger and fries


Betty Crocker to the Rescue

When moving to Kyrgyzstan I found a treasure. Somehow I came into possession of a very old Betty Crocker Cookbook. Its pages are yellowed, torn and creased.  The binding has been lovingly taped together and parts of the Index are completely missing. I first started flipping through it when I arrived 3 years ago, and immediately saw that it was a gold mine for my new lifestyle.

The Betty Crocker Cook BookInside the Betty Crocker Cook Book

It so happens that moving to Kyrgyzstan not only has forced me to learn a new language, but also to learn to cook… from scratch. I love America’s ability to create shortcuts, as far back as Bisquick existed we have worked to make life easier in the kitchen. But, just like learning to drive an automatic does not prepare one to drive stick-shift, so buying pre-shredded, pre-whipped, processed and frozen did not prepare me for cooking with the basics. And yes, I concur that there are many websites that have fantastic recipes, but I find that there is an expectation that in every town of America is a specialty market, or in the international foods aisle every variety of sauce, paste, vegetable and fruit can be found.

Bazaar FoodFresh Veggies in the Bazaar




Here is our unique challenge: we have limited, healthy, locally available foods in the village.  The emphasis is on limited. And this seemed to be the case in 1950s America as well, because armed with this cookbook I have embarked on a great adventure of trying new dishes. There are very few recipes that I cannot tackle because something is unavailable, or because the recipe calls for a product like cool whip or BBQ sauce. If it calls for it, it tells you how to make BBQ sauce. And what a triumph it is when I can whip up something in my kitchen that tastes like home.

I have learned to drive stick in my kitchen!

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Great Adventures in Kyrgyzstan: Hiking Stairs in the Pitch Black

Today’s story is directly related to what I was talking about last week: power problems. Due to the nature of the power grid in Kyrgyzstan (and, no doubt, the quality of the bulbs purchased), regular incandescent or florescent light bulbs tend to have short life spans. In each of the high-rise apartment buildings we have lived in, there were sockets for lights on each landing which would, when fitted with a light bulb and turned on, easily light the stairways.

However, those two conditions aren’t as simple as you would think. First of all, usually there aren’t light bulbs; most of the time, a good percentage of the floors of a building simply won’t have bulbs in the socket (due to poverty, neglect or any number of reasons). Light Fixture in the StairwellWe were blessed to live in a place with great neighbors, and we all replaced bulbs on a rotation, so our floor was usually nice and bright.

Second, frequently the lights simply aren’t turned on. We currently live in a fourth-floor walkup, and while about half of the floors in the building have lights, they usually aren’t turned on for me if I show up late in the evening.

Of course, the worst was when we lived in Bishkek and the power would periodically be off in the summer. I get nervous thinking about it: 103 F on the street, no elevator, 10 flights of stairs, no windows in the stairwell, no fresh air – just that sticky, dusty, stairwell air, complete with the myriad scents left behind by the homeless. And of course, because the power is out, this all takes place in the dark. The pitch black. I actually almost stepped on a homeless guy sleeping in the stairwell once in a situation like this.

the stairs in the day

The stairs during the day

This is really a guy problem though. All the women I know have purses, so they’re able to carry a pocket flashlight, and don’t ever have to hike ten flights of stairs in the pitch black.

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Camp Cook welcomes a guest post by Aram

Kyrgyz Veggie SaladOn a recent trip to Kyrgyszstan with a group of friends, we headed out of Bishkek to a small town called Malovodnoye, which means little water in Russian. At this town, we were to spend a couple days playing and hanging out with some kids in a day camp. One of the reasons why the camp existed was to provide nutritional food for the children. Like the name suggests, this town had little water, and the economy was weak so many of the children came to the camp solely to be fed well. On our way to the town, we stopped to pick up bread, vegetables and other various foods for the camp that day. When we arrived, I was asked if, since I was able to speak some Russian, I would be interested in helping the lunch lady cook the food all day. Since I try not to let “no” be in my vocabulary in foreign countries where unique experiences abound, I quickly said “yes”.

One time I tried to make cookies for my friend and I put in half a cup of baking soda instead of baking powder. Needless to say, I am not very helpful in the kitchen. So when I found myself preparing food under a lady who spoke only Russian and was, quite frankly, not too eager to engage in my broken Russian, it was a very humbling experience indeed. Cooking in the metric system? Tough. Cooking in the metric system in Russian? Impossible. In a soviet era school, with no air conditioning and cooking equipment from the 70s, I sweated and toiled cutting tomatoes and cucumbers for vegetable salad for seventy kids. I then filled a giant pot with buckets and buckets of water to make macaroni all the while attempting and failing to make small talk with my lunch lady boss. She meanwhile, just stared at me as she cut slice after slice of crusty bread, her bicep showing to be about 4 times bigger than my own.

At the end of the day, when the pots had been cleaned, the floors mopped and the tables wiped, I turned to the lunch lady, nodded my head and walked out of the cafeteria, completely exhausted and humbled.  At least now I can add to my resume when I graduate college:

Assistant to the Lunch Lady; Malovodnoye, Krgyzstan; Term of employment: One day.