Saturday, August 31, 2013

Battle of the Foodies

It's the second week of school.  I had some doubts about this school year.  I doubted I'd find super cool people that I wanted to hang out with (I have, even if I miss the hell out of my old peeps).  I doubted we'd have enough characters this year for a new school edition of Apples to Apples (we do...oh boy, do we ever).  And I kinda doubted this school year could go by as quickly as last.  But then, as this week was streaming past in a blur, I was teasing one of my juniors, and he told me I'd be crying when the year was over, and all the hours of work and critique and yes, joking around, were done.  I assured him that I knew I would, especially since I might be leaving at the end of the year.  He was a little taken aback, realizing that yes, this was the second year of my contract, and most teachers leave then.  I'm not sure if I will, but the world is a big place and there are so many more places I want to see, so I've signed up for Search Associates, just in case.  And I can see the end from the beginning.

It's the second week of school, but it might as well be the last, because I know how fast the time will fly by, and how heartbroken I will be to leave Mongolia.  This is what I was thinking as I stopped on my way back down the hillside from a short hike this morning.  And the day progressed in a suitably weird fashion.  On my way to meet Engrish to check out this weekend's "Taste of UB" event, I ran into a friend I chose to excuse from my life (ie, I unfriended him on Facebook) on the basis of the fact that he didn't seem to want to have a part in it.  I'd kinda wanted to see him again but chose to avoid situations where I knew he'd be, because I didn't really want to be desperate and stalker-ish, but there he was, so I awkwardly called his name and asked how he was.  And it was awkward, but hey, closure!
Then there was Taste of UB itself.  If you're putting on a food festival, it kind of ought to be up and going in time for lunch, right?  Engrish and I circled the moat at the Children's Park three times before things were actually running, and by then it was 1:30 (and, sadly, some vendors were STILL setting up).  We had a few nice nibbles - I had a "taco" from Los Banditos Maharaja (the very unlikely Mexican-Indian restaurant),bruschetta from Marco Polo, and some saffron rice with chicken, pork, and fish from Essencia - but this was the second time an event at the Children's Park let me down.

However, this week was sort of like Grub Club Founder's Week.  So what if the Taste of UB was a bit of a wash?  Last weekend, as I mentioned, Viva City hosted the UB Food Festival, which was a much greater success.  I got out there around 1, and everything was rocking.  I tried a beef dish from Bi-Won Korean restaurant, Monet's mushroom risotto, and pho from the Pho House, and they were all delectable.
The UB food festival had a much larger variety of food.  In addition to Korean, French, and Vietnamese, they had Indian, Japanese, Italian, drinks, and a variety of other things.  The longest line that I saw was definitely the one for Namaste, one of our Indian restaurants, although Sky Lounge had quite a few dads in line buying drinks (food festivals being thirsty work!)
However, this week's Taste of UB beat last week's UB Food Festival in at least one respect: location.  Viva City hosted the food festival, undoubtedly as a way of getting people out there to see how awesome Viva City is.  But it's outside the city halfway to the airport, which is a pain in the butt, and besides that, Viva City isn't that awesome.  They are colorful and have shops on the ground floor (some of which are even occupied by restaurants and stores) and nice landscaping between the buildings, but when you look closer, they don't look that well constructed.  Also, they have that hideous uber-functional Soviet-era feel to them which all the bright colors in the world can't hide.
Whereas Taste of UB took place at the Children's Park, in the center of town.  Around the moat that surrounds a frigging castle!  It needed some shade, but otherwise it was a great location.  Too bad they didn't have equally good restaurants and most of them didn't have their shiznit together.  Oh well - it's the first year, for both events.  I'm sure that next year will be better...and if I do leave, that will be just another thing for me to cry over.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grub Club: The Grill Place


 Tonight we had the smallest Grub Club on the official record (unofficially, our first two, when it was just PE, Engrish, and I were smaller).  This is, unfortunately one of the drawbacks of limiting the "membership" to just a few lucky individuals.  But we lucked out a little, since the menu of this week's find was pretty small, itself.

Back in June I joined the UB Foodies group on Facebook.  I have never considered myself to be a true "foodie," because I don't have the snobbery that goes with it; I just love to eat.  But Engrish was on there, and she recommended it to me, and since I was starting to worry about running out of restaurants I went ahead and joined.  Well, the Foodies have been a wellspring of information.  I learned about Round Table Pizza and Joe's Corner thanks to them.  I learned about two events that will feature on this weekend's blog, thanks to them.  And in the last week, one of them posted about the restaurant that became Engrish's pick for tonight: The Grill Place.
The Grill Place came up as one Foodie's recommendation because it was cheap and good.  They have an interesting menu.  They have salads and soups, burgers and curry, and "tacos."  It's not exactly an accurate description - if you want a real, Tex-Mex taco, you will be sorely disappointed! - but they are not bad, although they could use a little something to juice them up, maybe salsa or sour cream.  Each taco is only 1500 tugrugs, but be ready to order more.  Each of the slices above is one "taco."  When the waitress put them in front of me, I assumed they were all mine, but no.  Two were mine, and two were Geek's.

Engrish ordered the broccoli soup and chicken curry, as shown in the top photo.  I don't do broccoli, so I didn't try the soup, but it seems that the soups were a bit of a let down.  The curry, on the other hand, had a decent flavor, and came served with rice.
Squeaker had a fried chicken thing and chicken soup, which was creamy and kind of bland.  Adding salt and pepper improved it, but not much.  The chicken was delicious, but she skipped the pineapple, and only ate her veggies because Geek promised we'd go back to the State Department Store and buy her a beautiful new leather trenchcoat if she finished them.
Since I'd been told the tacos were not substantial (and how!) I went for their chicken wrap as well.  It was a kind of chicken-stuffed-with-lettuce-and-bacon-and fried-in-batter sorta dish.  It was delicious, but pretty greasy, but at least the salad that came with it made it feel a little more healthy.  I also had my second coke of the day (I am trying to get back on the 1-a-day wagon, but about every other day I get a headache around lunch, and I didn't want to spend my favorite classes kneading my head in pain) and a strawberry shake, which was not as delicious as the one at AB&F, but was better than the shake at Millie's.

The grand total for four of us stuffing our faces like...well, like a teacher who just got paid for the last time for the next two months?  49,000 tugrugs, which is pretty fantastic when you consider the conversion rate.  It wouldn't buy Squeaker a second cow (coat), it wouldn't even buy me the vest I wanted if it had been there and in my size when we went back (damn it), but let's just say that if I'd known about this place over the summer, my meager savings would have gone a lot further.  But then, what would I have written about in lieu of my Grub at Home posts???

The Grill Place is on Sukhbaatar Street (the one running on the west side of the square), on the west side of the street, within the block north of the former Natural History Museum.

Friday, August 23, 2013

End of the Road

It's an exciting time to live in Ulaanbaatar.  Lots of stuff is going on.  I was worried about running out of things to write about, but heck, with the Mongol Rally in town, a food festival at a new shopping/living center called Viva City, and the first Ulaanbaatar film festival just being announced, it looks like I'll be kept busy, not to mention that part of the black market, Naran Tuul, burned down yesterday morning.  Engrish and I were out on our morning constitutional when we saw a huge black cloud billowing up. 
The Mongol Rally is what I, a seasoned travel veteran, would term a true adventure.  Groups get a granny car in Europe (some start in England, but others join in the Czech Republic) and drive all the freaking way across central Asia, according to whatever route they feel like taking, til they get to UB, where their car will be sold for charity.  It's organized by a group called the Adventurists, who seem to have all sorts of crazy events (if driving across Central Asia isn't your thing, maybe you'd be up for racing rickshaws across India, or a 1500km run across the hostile terrain of Siberia?)

Well, this spring I missed seeing all the cool cars coming through town for the Peking to Paris rally, so when I heard about the finish line party for the Mongol Rally, I decided to go against my introverted nature and check it out.  It was set to begin at 8, and I got there about 8:20, to a nearly empty bar.  There were a few ralliers (would that be the word?) around, so I sat at a table with a trio of attractive British guys who regaled me with their stories.  My favorite was that they had made it all the way into Mongolia before their first major problem, when they punctured their gas tank.  One of them had gone looking for chewing gum to try to patch it with, but were saved from testing this avant-garde repair method when another, better prepared group caught up with them and gave them some putty that was designed for that exact purpose.  I really loved the sense that I got of these guys, all out on this great adventure, meeting like-minded people and helping each other out; there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst the ralliers, who knew each other by name and had all these stories in common.  It made me want to give it a go, although there seemingly weren't many either Americans or women in the group.
Well, a finish line party demands entertainment, and what better way to entertain men who've been on the road four weeks than with contortionists?  The ones hired by XO were great, and it was interesting to see them so close - normally you're further away, but there's just not that much space in a club.
However, the highlight of the evening - at least when it comes to the entertainment - was Altan Urag's performance.  They mix traditional Mongolian melodies and instruments with rock and roll.  It's amazing.  They perform regularly at Ikh Mongol, next to the circus, but I've never seen them because Ikh Mongol is kind of a bar and I don't spent a lot of time in bars without having a good reason.  Altan Urag seems like a pretty good reason, now that I think about it.
The thing that I felt like I missed out on, going to that first party, was the lack of stories on their "Tales of Adventure" map.  No one had written anything yet!  So when Engrish was kind of moping last night because she wanted to go to the party but she had to pack, I convinced her that we should go - we could watch the entertainment and talk to a few people and still leave early.  When we got there just past ten, it was packed and we weren't allowed in - apparently if you didn't already have a ticket, you had to have a Rally wristband.  I did take a look at the map quickly, but nobody had written on it.  Which could be another reason why I need to do this some year.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Grub Club: Rosewood Kitchen + Enoteca

What the hell is an enoteca?  I had to look this up.  According to Wikipedia, an enoteca is a wine repository.  It's an Italian word, which I guess is fitting, since Rosewood's "new" restaurant is an Italian place.  In other words...THAT'S RIGHT BITCHES - GRUB CLUB IS BACK! 

I wanted to take everybody to Rosewood Kitchen for my last choice before school let out, but they foiled my attempt to snatch the best restaurant prize from myself (Khajuraho for the win!) by not being open for dinner.  However, I saw a post on the UB Foodies Facebook page within the last month that said they were open now, and since Engrish was ready to start things again and I finally got paid (thank goodness the finance office didn't want to pay two groups of teachers on two different schedules!) I decided that it was the place to kick of Grub Club 2013-2014.

The staff were friendly as they moved some tables to seat the six of us (yes, we've shrunk a little - Engrish and I decided that we needed to limit our numbers, since ten people dining together was unwieldy, to say the least) and took our drink orders.  They brought the drinks with some delicious bread and even brought us oil and vinegar, which held us over until our first dishes started to arrive (not a long wait, I must say).  There were quite a few Caesars that came to our table, and mine was fantastic.  Engrish decided to order the bruschetta, which came piled with tomatoes at least an inch thick.  The flavor of it was incredible - savor and sweet and olive-oil-ish all rolled into one.  I'll definitely order that one next time.  Geek and Squeaker - one of our inductees - ordered garlic bread which was also nice, but not on the same level as the bruschetta.  And yes, clearly we needed LOTS of carbs.  Teaching damn well takes it out of you!

Mad Science went a little more out there.  She started with this fried artichoke dish.  I don't even have words to describe it.  There were so many layers of flavor in it...Bacon.  Artichoke.  Lemon. 

Yeah, I had you at bacon, didn't I?

She also went for the Australian Steak Tartare, and not just because she's an Aussie herself.  Mad Science apparently likes her food bloody and raw.  The rest of us were a little scared of this dish, but Engrish tried it and had to admit it was good, while Mad Science loved it so much that when it was time for us to assign ratings for the food, she gave it a 9, which is pretty great considering we're just starting back up.
Our other newbie, Blondie, ordered a panini.  She was a little ashamed of it, to be ordering a sandwich at a kinda nice Italian place, but we assured her there was nothing to be ashamed of - especially when Mad Science ordered parmesan fries on impulse and I had actually been considering the paninis myself because they had pesto on them.  It looked delicious, and she had leftovers for tomorrow.
I think the best dish by far was the orecchiette that Geek and Engrish both ordered.  I thought about that one, too, before deciding on the mushroom linguine.  I chose poorly.  The sausage was delicious and I would have preferred the orecchiette over the linguine, just because I don't generally care for stringy pastas.  We all ordered the small portions, which it turns out were huge, especially when we'd been loading up on bread all night.

The total for the six of us came just short of 200,000 tugrugs.  I managed to only spend 22,000 of that, mostly because of the fact that I don't drink.  I'm loving the conversion rate right now, because the school pays us in dollars, so even though my salary is spread out over 12 months this year instead of ten, I make about the same amount in tugrugs as I did last year.  That made my dinner tonight less than fifteen bucks, which is not bad at all for a salad, pasta, and two cans of coke.  My wine-bibbing friends didn't fare as well - the wines in this repository didn't come cheap, but seemed to be enjoyed by those that had them. 

Rosewood Kitchen is a little hard to find.  It's just off Seoul Street, but there's no sign.  There was a sign when they first opened, which is how I knew where they were, but you're going to have to take a leap of faith to get there.  On Seoul Street there's kind of a fenced ger compound on the south side of the street.  To the left of the compound is a light colored building, the Mandala Building (if you don't read Cyrillic, you might identify it by the shiny golden mandala on the top of the building).  On the ground floor is a row of tinted windows (which don't do a lot of good when the sun is going down right in your eyes), and a door on the right end of this.  When you go in the door, go through the door on your left, and you're basically there.  You'll know you're in the right place by the pig statue just outside the restaurant, which doesn't have a sign even in its immediate entrance.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Year, New Ger

I am not a very social person.  I happen to be one of those super-spiffy individuals called "introverts" and a tiny bit of social stimulation is just about all I need most of the time (side note: don't come to see me after I've been left to my own devices for a month.  Engrish and Geek were afraid I was going to hump their legs, I was that happy to have friends again).  However, the start of a new school year means we had a LOT of new staff coming in.  It also means that we go on a big staff ger camp, and the most expedient way of getting to know ALL those people is, of course, to take them out to the countryside and give them a lot of booze (yeah, I'm Mormon, and I don't drink, but I think you learn a lot about people, pretty fast, when you put them in a big group with their coworkers and they all start drinking...you learn who can control themselves, who's an ass, who's fun no matter what...all sorts of things), and since I haven't seen much of the newbies, I like spending time with Engrish and Geek, and - let's be honest - I was looking forward to an excuse to start fires, I went.

Last year the school took us to Hustai National Park.  The spring camp went to Terelj but I decided the people I DIDN'T want to be around when they got schnackered outnumbered the ones that I love to be around under any and all circumstances, so I gave it a miss.  What I had seen of Terelj, though, I really liked, and I was excited to get out and see more.  Unfortunately the bus I was on - which I was not exactly happy about because it was full of sedate people who, for the most part, I'd already gotten to know - went to the wrong ger camp.  Twice.  (There are only about a million ger camps in Terelj, so I really don't understand how he went to the wrong one.)  But we made it there in the end, and their food was pretty great - I could have eaten nothing but their bread, which was crusty on the outside, nice and moist on the inside and I swear had a hint of sourdough about it - even if it took them an hour and a half to serve us lunch this afternoon.
I had hoped to get up in the hills earlier in the week to find kindling, but in the rush to get ready for the new school year (which has upset me on various occasions, but that's neither here nor there) it didn't happen.  Fortunately our bus was 40 minutes ahead of the other when we got to the park entrance, which then gave me a little time to find some.  But there was a problem.  I don't know if any of you 6 faithful readers have tried to start a fire with wood that isn't completely bone dry before, but if not, it's not the best idea.  It rained a few times over the last week (it seems to me that it rains more here in August than other months), and the dead wood and pine cones I was able to gather were just wet enough to be a problem.  So helpful hint for pyros number one: make sure to get DRY kindling.  Helpful hint number 2: bring the FULL box of matches.  When you've got damp kindling, you go through a lot of them.  On the upside though (ain't I the optimist?) I seem to be getting used to the cold, because when I woke up at 2:30 in the earlimorn to the sound of some Mongolians blasting music out of the trunk of their car and needing desperately to pee, the ger didn't feel that cold, and neither did the air outside.  And when I had to go looking for the guy who (for once) was going to start our fire in the morning until I chased him off because I wanted to play pyro...to ask him to come back and start our fire because this pyro ran out of matches, the predawn gloaming was beautiful, in a solitary, alien sort of way.
One of the most famous rock formations in Mongolia is in Terelj.  Can you guess what it is supposed to look like?  If you've got a guess, tell me what you think it is in the comments - I'll send a postcard to the first person who gets it right (unless I worked with that person here last year).  We stopped there when I went with Ecovoyage Mongolie to cook khuushuur this spring, but at that point I was tired, undercaffeinated, and wanted to get the hell home.  I still haven't climbed the damn thing (maybe next time), but I did get to take some pictures.
We went to Terelj Monastery before the rock, but I wasn't really into it, and stayed near the bus for the allotted hour, weaving flowers into a coronet (I've been reading a lot of faerie fiction this month - can you tell? - including rereading all of Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, which I LOVE and highly recommend if you're into urban fantasy).  I was more excited, upon arriving at the Rock, to look at their eagle and have a picture taken.  I didn't hold him for very long - he seemed kind of grouchy, and I can't blame him, since his handlers encourage the tourists to bob him up and down to get him to open his wings - but even in that short amount of time I was surprised by how much he weighed.  I've been reading up a little on eagle hunting, because I'm planning to go to the Eagle Festival in Bayan-Olgii in October.  These badasses can take down and carry off a young deer, which I find a lot more believable after feeling his claws through the leather sleeve and seeing just how sharp his beak was up close.  That close up you could see the difference in his eyes, as well - the one closest to me was clouded over, which is probably how he ended up getting the tourist gig.  Regardless, he was an amazing bird, and I only felt slightly ridiculous telling him how beautiful he was and thanking him for letting me hold him.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Short Skirt, Full-Metal Jacket

I've never considered myself much of a feminist.  That word - to me - always conjures up images of burnt bras, women dressing butch and protesting that marriage is enslavement.  While at least one guy I dated labeled me as such because I opened doors for myself if I got to them first, I don't have a problem with marriage, I like to wear skirts, and can't live without a good bra, so feminism never has held any appeal.  I also don't consider myself to be particularly political.  This angers some people, but there's not much that gets me bent out of shape, and I don't really see much difference between republicans, democrats, and the rest of the power-grubbing liars.  Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I really don't care.  While I don't post articles on Facebook every hour on the hour, there are a few causes out there that I do feel are worth standing up for, ones that, by and large, are not voter issues, but cultural ones.

The complex stew of problems that continue to face women - not the so-called glass ceiling or equal funding for women's athletics, but ending abuse, changing the culture we live in so that it doesn't blame us for being victims - is one of these causes.  Like I said, I've led a pretty charmed life; I have been extremely blessed as a woman.  I have parents who have loved and supported me in pretty much whatever I wanted to do, and who somehow raised me to be confident and independent enough to do it.  I have never been a victim - I pity the person who would try it - and when I was bullied briefly in high school, I went to the vice principal and ended it.  But I know I'm lucky.  On the last day of school I was talking to one of my students, and she told me she wasn't sure how her summer was going to go, that her mother didn't want to let her out of the house (according to Domestic Goddess she is about the right age to be kidnapped and sold into human trafficking, which I wasn't aware was a problem here) and often said that she wished she'd never had a daughter.  This was one of my best girls, who is kind and considerate and a natural leader...but that wasn't good enough.  The fact that she was a girl was a problem.  It often is, in Asia.  Not as badly as in China, which has the worst, man-made gender gap in history, but even in more moderate countries there is still often a preference for boys.  One of the reasons I respect my Dark Lord and Master so much is because of how much he loves his daughter; he wouldn't trade her for all the boys in the world.

Now, if you were to go in for slut-shaming, if you were to blame women for what happens to them, there would hardly be a better place to do it than Asia.  Maybe I just don't go out often enough back home, but I have never seen girls dress as scantily in the States as they do over here.  The outfits that some of the Chinese staff wore to school back in Shanghai could easily be used in another, much older profession.  I've almost never worn skirts so short, or bared so much skin, and their dress is occasionally frustrating because it's hard to be modest (and fat) and compete with gorgeous Asian women.  You're never going to win.  But that's my problem, not theirs.
And that was kind of the point of the "My Short Skirt" march last week that was being put on by Young Women for Change.  When Facebook told me about it I decided the time had come for me to get political. See, a colleague (a male colleague, I don't mind saying, since I do feel like that has some bearing) last year posted a "satirical" article on his Facebook page about a rape festival in India.  There is no such thing, but I think there are some subjects that are too serious for such treatment.  The author says it was written to raise awareness, but the way it was written made me and my female friends sick, and since the way this colleague played off our protests about what poor taste it was with a comment about how "some people don't get satire," rather than reacting as the women did, I have a feeling that he was actually the one that didn't get it.

"My Short Skirt" is one of the Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler.  My university, UMKC, puts on a performance of it each year for V-Day, and I was there for what seems like it must have been the first, although I can't tell you what year it was (I'm guessing 2002, but can't be sure).  It is, by turns, funny and disturbing and empowering, and I'm glad to know my alma mater is still doing it.  Young Women for Change did a performance of it here in 2011, and performed "My Short Skirt" for last Friday's march (you can see the first couple of stanza in the video below, but they are in Mongolian, so you might not get much out of it).  The point of the piece is that how a woman dresses has nothing to do with anyone but herself. 
Here's where I may get a little controversial...  While I agree that it should have nothing to do with anyone but herself, we are only human.  Most of the time what we choose to wear does send a message, whether that message be "I value my job," or "I'm trying to get your attention."  And while women are NOT responsible for men's thoughts or actions and should NEVER be blamed when they are victimized, we ARE responsible for our own safety.  We have the power to choose where we will go, who we will go with, what we will do.  Don't make choices that take control out of your hands.  It's easy for me to say, I know - I don't drink, and as an introvert I've usually had enough interaction and am ready to go home long before other people get to their "bad decision making" stage - and the fact is that bad shit can happen, no matter how careful you are.  However, it's a lot less likely to happen if you don't ignore the fact that you have both the power and the responsibility to protect yourself.  Drink moderately.  Don't put yourself in bad situations, such as going out alone.

In a perfect world, a girl could walk down any street at any time of day wearing whatever she likes and be perfectly safe, but we don't live in a perfect world.  Events like this march are important, because they do help raise awareness, and bring us a little closer to that perfect world.  Until then, we don't do ourselves any favors by pretending that our choices have no bearing on what happens to us. Let me finish by saying how difficult this post was to write.  There's a reason I don't usually do serious.  It's hard, it's not natural for me, but while everyone is saying - correctly - how wrong it is to blame victims, and how bad slut shaming is, I think there is also a need for voices that tell women that they have power over what happens to them, and (as my Dad would say) to pull their heads out of their asses.  I hope I haven't offended anyone, and if I have, I'm sorry, but I still think it needs to be said.

Insh'Allah next week will bring a return to lewd jokes and gratuitous swearing.

p.s. For the record, my experience with safety as a woman in Mongolia has been completely positive, and I would go so far as to say that female expats are safer here than male ones.  I can't speak for Mongolian women, and I haven't done the research to tell you about them.  I guess I could, but I'm tired of hammering this thing out, so we'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Grub at Home: Chili

Chili is one of THE great American foods.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't really plan to start focusing on American cookery, not only because this is sort of a travel blog, but also because I am not a meat and potatoes sort of girl, and that's what America's famous for.  However, I was lazy this week and didn't feel like coming down from the Lonely Mountain to get what I needed to cook Korean, so suck it up (no one's making you read this, after all).
One of the great things about chili is there's no "right" way to make it.  When I was in college I had a great job working for the financial aid office, and every year for Halloween we would host a huge chili party for all of the administrative offices, and there was no end to the varieties of chili.  There are, however, a few things that will normally be in it.  First, meat.  You can make vegetarian chili, of course, but it's just not the same without the texture the meat gives it.  Ground meat, of any kind - I usually use ground beef because it's cheap and simple, but my Uncle John makes it with Italian sausage, which gives it additional kick.  I have to say that I'm not a fan of ground chicken, for anything, because it doesn't have enough fat in it.  It cooks too fast and tends to stick to my pans.

I also chop up an onion and - when I think about it - some garlic and cook those along into the meat.  The onion is a pretty standard part of chili, too, although you could leave it out; I have, on occasion, since neither of the two Evils in my life like onion.
Two more crucial ingredients are tomato sauce and beans.  I don't like my chili to be too thin, so I generally use one large (15 oz) can of tomato sauce if I'm using a pound of meat.  Red kidney beans are typically what people put in chili, but while I'll eat them, I prefer black beans; they're a little bit smaller, and have a nice taste.  I use bell peppers in almost every dish I make, but my last one went bad before I made my chili.  However, I did have some jalapeno peppers in my freezer that needed used, so I thawed them out and threw them in there.
So you put all this into the pot, and the meat and onions when they're cooked, but your chili's not finished yet.  It's supposed to be spicy, and normally you do this by going to the store and buying a packet of chili seasoning.  I didn't have any chili seasoning, but once upon a time in Korea I ended up using taco seasoning because I had no other choice, and it turns out that has most of the same spices in it, and the chili was as good, if not better, than usual.  There's probably a certain amount that you're supposed to put in, but I just shake in as much as I need to get the flavor right.
You can stop there if you like, or you can add other things.  Chili being a kind of Tex-Mex sorta dish, I sometimes put corn in. 

Once you've narrowed down what you want to put in your chili, you have the delicious task of what to serve it with.  Growing up, it seemed like everyone ate chili with crackers.  I don't like how mushy crackers get.  Instead, I like eating my chili with tortilla chips (did I mention how it's kind of a Tex-Mex thing?), although at the Financial Aid Halloween Chili parties someone introduced me to eating it on rice, and in spite of being a white bread kid who grew up thinking rice was a Chinese food, I really, really liked chili served on rice.  Cheese is another standard, and it's one that's hard to improve on.  I like adding a bit of salsa, too, or if that's not available, vinegar adds just a hint of complexity to the flavor (that's also a good idea if you make lentil soup...Bronte and her hubby were not the first ones to clue me in to vinegar, but they were the ones to teach me about it with lentils, and...wow.  I'd kill for Vasilis' lentil soup recipe).
I thought I'd leave you this week with a shot of my teeny tiny little freezer.  Strangely enough, this is normally more than enough space for me - the bottom would be filled with chicken breasts and a couple pounds of ground beef.  However, I've inherited a lot from my friends who abandoned ship.  I imagine in the next month or so of not really having any money I will use up most of this.  It's made the last month of it a little easier to get through, at any rate.  There's a bag on top of cubed beef that I'm planning to use making Korean for next week's post, so if you like spicy stuff, check in then.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Get me to Gachuurt on (play)Time

On the way out to Gachuurt on our twice-monthly visits to Lotus Orphanage last year, we would often pass the Hotel Mongolia.  It always struck me as being slightly ridiculous.  Here is this big resort dressed up like an old palace or monastery, out in the middle of nowhere.  I suppose there are people who want to enjoy the beauty of the countryside without giving up things like private rooms with heat and electricity, but those people have obviously never had the thrill of starting their own fire at 6 in the morning.  Needless to say, I prefer a ger (especially if Five and Engrish are bringing the food!)
However, the Hotel Mongolia does serve for at least one function a year - it hosts the Playtime Music Festival (aka, the first proper outdoor concert I've been to since the 90's).  This is Mongolia's biggest live music event, so I decided I should go.  It's a 2-day concert, and now that I've been, I should have gone for both days, but I don't have a tent and I'm still broke (thanks to the fact that my school pays us in 10 installments), so I only purchased a ticket for Sunday.

Now, I felt a little bad about that, because good little Mormon girls don't go out on Sundays, so I decided I would go out there after church.  I packed my backpack with my camera, some snacks, and jeans to change into when I was ready to leave church.  Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?  I got to the bus stop before I realized I'd left my money at home, and as I was already 10 minutes late, I decided I'd ditch church after all, and watched several more episodes of Downton Abbey before dragging (and I do mean dragging - I had to fight myself every step of the way, because I was finally getting into this lazy-time vacation thing) myself out to Gachuurt.
I had to keep telling myself it would be fun, I would like it, and that I needed something to write about this weekend, and when I finally got there, it turned out I was right.  People go to the countryside whenever they can because it is just so damn beautiful.  Everyone was in a great mood - everyone's your friend at a music festival - the air was clean, and the clouds were puffy so I didn't even need that much sunscreen.
And, c'mon, who doesn't love festival food, even if it is Mongolian style?  I swear, I've grown to love khuushuur in the last few months, and shashlik - particularly from the Shashlik House - is not only delicious but conjures up memories of my dear departed (for other countries) friends.
How about the music, though?  Most of the acts were Mongolian bands, and because I'm totally lame I only watched three of them before heading back to UB.  The first one was Vatame, and I really enjoyed them.  They had a nice, vibey sound.  The second, Sir Alex, didn't really have anything special to recommend them, and I wandered off to eat some khuushuur at that point.  Afterwards White Shadow (pictured above) took the stage, and I was initially really interested to listen to them, because they had a violinist.  The songs that she played with them were good.  Their other music left me with this stunning conclusion: "scream" rock (you know what I'm talking about, right?  When instead of singing the main vocalist just screams into the mic?) doesn't appeal to me any more in Mongolia than it does anywhere else.  If they could lose that particular gimmick, they'd have a decent sound.
What else can I tell you?  From what I was there for (which is, admittedly, a very, very small percentage of over 40 bands) there was not a lot of variety in the music.  There were a couple of foreign acts, Japan's Mono and Russia's Storm, but what I'd really like to see next year are some Moonpies served up by Michael Quinn and the Bourbon Kings.  (Full disclosure: Michael and his sexy wife are good friends of mine, but they still kick some major ass, and you should check them out). All in all it was a fun afternoon, and I'm really glad I managed to break out of my inertia long enough to go.