Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

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Homemade Baby Food

When we moved to the village a year ago, I was pregnant with our second child. Our first daughter was born in America and we didn’t move to Kyrgyzstan until she was 2 years old. So with our second child, I knew I’d have a lot of “firsts” raising a baby in Kyrgyzstan. There were a lot of questions that I hadn’t had to ask yet, for instance, where do I find baby food, how much is it, and what is available?

I discovered that it wasn’t too hard to find jars of baby food in Karakol, but it is incredibly expensive and there isn’t much variety sold. It makes much more sense to prepare baby food at home. This realization was a tad daunting because I’d never made my own baby food before, but how hard could it be? I knew I had some jars of apple sauce already canned, so at least that was a start. Let me tell you there are several good “how to” websites for homemade baby food, and for those I’m very thankful. Really, it was easy. My first experiment was with carrots. I steamed them, put them in the food processor, and then froze them in ice trays. From the trays I put them in Ziploc bags to keep in the freezer and pull them out as needed. I’ve done the same with other vegetables. It has saved us so much money I might even go so far to say that I would make my own baby food in America too. Shocking, huh? Here’s to the simplicity of life in Kyrgyzstan.IMAG0489 IMAG0491

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Sweetened Condensed Milk

I remember my friend Sarah and I finding sweetened condensed milk in one of the first stores that I walked into outside of Bishkek. I don’t remember now if that store was in Karakol or on our way from Bishkek to Karakol. I found it odd that such a small store with such a limited stock would have sweetened condensed milk. Since that first encounter, I have noticed these cans just about everywhere, from the largest grocery stores in Bishkek to the smallest side of the road kiosks. I recently bought a can to make a dessert and it really got me thinking…what are most people buying sweetened condensed milk for? It is not really common for people here to make desserts at home. So I asked my Russian tutor. Her first answer was that it was used to make a particular cake. Ok, I thought, but the rare cake doesn’t explain its abundant availability. And then it came…and some people put it in their tea. Aha, that’s it! This is its real use in Kyrgyzstan. They say you can’t live without tea. Well, I tried it. Not yet in my tea. I tried it first in my coffee. Let me tell you, it wasn’t too bad. I don’t think it will be replacing my sugar and cream, but I do now understand its marketability.

 russian sweetened condensed milk

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Canning Salsa

teh finished jars of salsa

The tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, and peppers bought at the bazaar last week were put to good use canning salsa. I must admit I was terrified to spear head my own canning project this year. Last year I was more behind the scenes on all the canning endeavors, not paying much attention to the science and mechanics of it all. But, alas, my canning buddies from last year are now in the states so I needed to figure it out. I invited two new friends along for moral support.

We fumbled our way through the process, asking ourselves whether or not to: heat the jars in the oven with water, completely submerge the cans in the water bath, and allow the filled jars to rest right side up or upside down. One of the difficulties of canning here is that it is so different from canning in the states. (Not that I have ever canned in the States!). Neither screw bands nor water baths are used in the canning process here. Screw bands keep the lids secure during the water bath. We decided to employ a water bath that did not completely cover the jars in case the lids weren’t sealed correctly. The lids popped up during the water bath and then while cooling indented back in. I’m not 100% sure that all of our choices were right but the jars appear to be sealed. If anyone sees a health risk in our future, speak now! Otherwise I’ll be blissfully ignorant and continue on to the next canning endeavor: apple sauce!


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Summer Bazaar

summer produce from the central bazaar in Karakol KyrgyzstanWithout a doubt, late summer in Kyrgyzstan is the best time to shop for produce. Since produce is largely seasonal and mostly locally grown, it is the most abundant and the cheapest during the end of summer. After summer’s abundance, many produce items simply cannot be found, and those that can be found may be double in price. These facts definitely motivate me to carry on the canning tradition, which my friends and I started last year. Scott recently made a bazaar run for me to buy produce for my latest canning session (salsa), along with some extra fruits and veggies. More about the canning session later.

For now, I want to show you the kinds of produce and the prices that can be found at the bazaar during the summer. (See my blog on a trip to the bazaar I took last winter). Here is a picture of what we bought. It included 2 kg of tomatoes, 1.5 kg of onions, two bunches of cilantro, a bunch of basil, 3 zucchini, 3 bulbs of garlic, 5 bell peppers, 16 other peppers, 3 large potatoes, 1 kg of peaches, and half a kilo of grapes. And the cost? Drum roll please…390 som or approximately $8. Someone want to go buy all of this in the states and let me know how much it costs you? 😉

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A Way I’d Like to Live

Growing up my family had a big field and we grew watermelon, cantaloupe, and squash. My summers as a kid were spent waking up early to weed our field. Oh how I hated waking up early to work in the field, but after I went to college I somewhat missed it. Living in my university city I found myself wishing that my then-non-existent children would have the same type of experience (definitely looking through rose-colored glasses at that time). It was hard work and I always thought that it had to be hard work.

Yet, one thing I’ve learned from living in Karakol is that it doesn’t have to be such hard work to grow your own food…and I love that. Many homes have a vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, and maybe a few berry bushes. People take what they need and either sell or give away the rest. The bazaars have many people selling the fruit of their labors: fresh and canned fruits, vegetables, and spices. The best time of the year is when the older babooshkas (grandmothers) come out and sell their small, yet very delicious strawberries and raspberries. They are unlike anything I have tasted back home. Driving through villages outside the city, people line the road selling apples and apricots from their gardens.

I feel like I make it more complicated than it really is. Here, it’s just a way of life. It makes sense, right? There is a time where lots of work is needed but getting to take part in the harvest is so worth the effort. Looking around and seeing how, on some level, people are self-sufficient is encouraging and challenging. In a country that doesn’t have a lot of conveniences from a Western viewpoint, it has taught me the value of earning my food through work. For example, last fall I embarked on my first experience with canning. It was several days work for spaghetti sauce, apple butter, apple sauce, apricot butter, and canned apricots but each time I open one of those cans I’m so thankful for that process. This newfound appreciation for “hard” work is something I hope will change the way I live back home.

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Eating in Central Asia, Part 3

I have a friend, Jengish, who pestered me a long time about eating a genuine local dish. He would talk about how much I was accustomed to Kyrgyzstan but I would not be complete without this one dining experience. So I said yes. Better yet, we got a bunch of other people involved also. It was a meal that I would never forget.

It happened during a local spring holiday. There are plenty of spring holidays in Kyrgyzstan, especially in May. We invited a bunch of local friends as well as a few other Americans. We sat crowded in our American friend’s living room as we waited for Jengish, the cook for the evening. The late afternoon was full of laughter and tea. We visited patiently for dinner to start. Jengish came into the living room, boisterous, with a sheep head. “Are you guys ready for sheep head dinner?!” he exclaimed to the crowd. We all hyped ourselves up and cheered for dinner. Jengish took the head into the kitchen where the girls gasped and yelped. Cooking dinner was ready to begin. He took the head, which was already skinned and cleaned, and put it into a pot of boiling water. No salt, vegetables, or any other spices were added. Just the pure essence of sheep in the pot.

The rest of the group in the living room chatted and others watched a comedy film. Each room in the apartment was filled with conversation and laughter. There was hardly room for people to walk by each other. After an hour, we were all getting hungry. We had tea and cookies to keep our hunger at bay. For some, tea and cookies became dinner. As for the rest of us, we eagerly awaited for dinner to be served. Then, the head came out on a large plate with some noodles sprinkled around it. The living room was set up Kyrgyz dinner style. There was a large tablecloth on the floor with pillows surrounding. The head was placed in the center and soon after we were served. I had the pleasure of getting the best part, the cheek. Others took different parts of the head, getting whatever meat they could. I tried the tongue, offered to me by one of the local girls I sat near. Then, Jengish gave me a very special part of the head dish. He gave me a small bit of sheep brain. I had never eaten brain until that night. It had the texture of tuna, but with a strong taste of sheep. It was like sheep tuna. It was gross, yet interesting. We ate every bit of that head that night. The evening came to a close around 9:00 p.m. After most of our friends left, Jengish looked at me and asked if I liked it. I told him it was okay. Then he told me, “At least you’ll be smarter now…because you ate brains.”

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Ashlan–Fu:The Karakol Experience

DSC_3771There are certain dishes that are specific to a very small location. One of those would be Ashlan-Fu. I am not much of a food critic, so I might leave the discussion of this tasty, cold, soupy salad to someone who will extol the virtue of Ashlan-Fu much better than I can. But, one thing is common knowledge around here: Karakol is the home of Ashlan-fu. It is the place that people come to have it. It is available in every fancy restaurant (granted there really aren’t many of those) and in every hole in the wall, or at the central food court for either bazaar. The other day we had some guests and ventured out to our food court. Now this is an experience. You sit on long stone benches or on a saw horse and a woman at the end of the table makes your Ashlan-Fu and fry bread right before your eyes. Where you sit determines who your cook will be. Most likely that woman made everything from scratch: the rice noodles, the egg noodles, cut up the veggies and stirred it all together for this delectable cheap lunch. I am now a believer that every foreigner who comes to Karakol has to make a stop in the food court of the central bazaar and experience the atmosphere of the metal building, the stone table covered with cheap plastic, the small bowls of local goodness and tasty hot fry bread. Come and join us next time you are in town!