Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Our Ger Warming Party - or - What Do You Feed 35 Herders???




....Stupid question really, because the answer is so obvious.  Sheep.  Sheep. Sheep.  Oh, and  more sheep.  The challenge of course for the North American Chef is how to cook Mongolian sheep at home in a way that will be considered at least "edible" by the local crowd.  Actually, even before that, the question is how do you buy sheep?  Preferably not on the hoof...although we did think about cooking a whole sheep on a spit or in a rock pile, but in the end settled for asking a Mongolian friend if they could buy us 20 or so kilos of leg of "lamb"....the quotation marks are because "lamb" as such is what they sometimes call the meat, but, in Mongolia they don't eat babies and so "lamb" is not available...only sheep.  And my full experience of cooking sheep prior to this party consisted of googling "how to cook sheep"...which really only netted me advice on cooking lamb.  Conundrum. Times two.  In any case, my friend went out and got me the 20 kilos of sheep leg (thigh? rump?...) or something and after it had been in the fridge for a couple of days I decided I should get it out and have a look at what we had and figure out a way to proceed.
It turns out that the large plastic bag was full of about 30 kilos of sheep.  One sheep.  One whole sheep.....minus the bones.
Which led to great consternation among the chefs.  I mean really, what do you do with a whole boneless sheep?  It won't fit in the oven....and, after much discussion we decided to snip it in two and make two meat "log rolls" with tinfoil, bake them in the oven....and pray.  Lots of prayers.  This is my country street cred on the line here....
Lemon, onion, salt ( lots of salt!!) and roll it up....
It does help if you don't tie in your assistant's hand as you roll up the meat....
One down...one to go!
And into the oven it goes..and yes, that is our oven.  A pretty typical size for over here...teeny tiny..hence our problem with the whole sheep!  Doesn't Robert look happy?  He and I felt very much like we had just won the first prize in Iron Chef!!
....and the second one (garlic for good measure!) goes into the fridge overnight while the first one cooks...300 degrees for 9 hours in the hopes that the meat will then be something resembling tender...and also that way if the first one really doesn't work out we can do something different with the second one. It's called flying blind I think!...
Everyone helped out!  Thanks...:)  We whipped up a mutton curry, two kinds of salad, a large chocolate cake, a huge mound of potatoes and assembled a huge collection of drinks and snacks to bring along to round out the party menu.  
Ok..at the ger we have 3 hours until "company" arrives.  Weird when everyone coming to your party is essentially a stranger...but I love a challenge.  Ok, so here is the ritual lighting of our first ever fire in the ger.  Quite a lovely moment really....even with the smoke billowing in from the pipe that needed a little adjustment...made it feel like a real ger!  

Of course, with fire comes heat and the risk of some serious burns....which unfortunately, as Sugi was helping dish up the potatoes she learned about first hand...literally...she, without thinking, put her hand on the stove pipe for support...oops.  She was a trooper though..no shrieks or screams...I didn't even know she had done it until I went outside and saw...

...the water barrel being put to a very good use!!  It was pretty scary actually as she had given herself a very good burn.  The interesting thing though was that when one of my new neighbours heard about it, he leapt up onto his horse and hied off over the steppe, returning about 10 minutes later with a lovely golden oil of some description and a serious insistence (translated by Saraa!) that she coat her burn with this oil...preferably after rubbing laundry detergent on it to break off all of the blisters!!  Yikes!!  Pass on the laundry detergent, but Sugi was willing to try anything at that point and so on went the Marmot oil...yup marmot oil..and within an hour or so 80 percent of the blisters were gone..the pain was gone and the hand, though tender, was greatly improved.  Who knew?  Marmot oil.  She used it religiously for the next three days and on the fourth day when she left, she was carrying her suitcase in that hand.  Amazing!  And now my dilemma...I have the left over marmot oil and I want to keep it, but I think I have to give it back...I mean, it's not like he can go to the store and get some more...and I imagine that getting oil out of a marmot isn't the easiest thing in the world, so this weekend I'll do the honourable thing and hand it back...but keep it in mind next time you fry yourself.  Marmot oil.  cool.
Anyway, back to the party.  First things first - make some Suute Tse...Milk tea.  Lesson one in countryside living.  The first thing you must do every morning is make some of this so that if people come you have something to give them.....and now I know how...boil the loose tea for about 10 minutes...add about half and half milk and a generous dollop of salt ( preferably not Chinese salt apparently!) and you've got it made.
Tea made, burn victim treated, all pertinent food assembled, presented, and organized, we were ready for the party to happen.  And happen it did!  Turns out we could have made three times as much curry - they loved it!
But the real question was the sheep...would it meet Mongolian herder standards....and the answer was....
YES!!  A big thumbs up from all of our neighbours...although the non garlic one got the highest marks, it was an all round success!  Hooray!  First neighbourhood hurdle passed!
Laisser les bon temps rouler!!  
 It was gorgeous...a steady stream of kids and adults and grandmothers all with traditional house warming gifts....
Like dried yogurt and cheese which, apparently, will last up to ten years....
...and airag ( fermented mare's milk) and chocolates...

..and a large picture frame that is an absolute requirement for any ger so you can show off your family.  It was lovely.  And it got me off my butt and today I was down at the shop getting a bunch of pictures printed up so that when I go there on the weekend I can frame my photos and hang them up.  Love it!
The other requirement for a party in Mongolia is Booz. Not that kind of booz...the mutton kind!  (no surprise there!)  We ( and I use the term loosely because I had absolutely nothing to do with it other than purchasing 300 of the little beggars) cooked  about 250 in my new booz maker - a must have for any proper Mongolian Sheep Chef - and they were gobbled up like candy!

....although, not everyone was impressed by them!
....but most of us were having a wonderful time!!
Don't they make a cute couple??
...and speaking of cute...some of our neighbours really pulled out the glad rags for our little do...

..a photographer is born.  Her dad and I had a lovely international moment comparing zoom lens and f stops!   Fun fun fun!  The other fun thing was that thing was that this was Sugi's birthday party too!  So, if you have a combined birthday / ger warming party what kind of a cake can you make...hmmm....


Lovely isn't it?  I'm not sure the locals got the humour, but I liked it.  Oh, and Sugi got a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday - Mongolian style..which is not, surprisingly, the same as the English version..different tune, words and feeling.  Very Russian really, and very beautiful. Oh, and she got to keep the ger as a souvenir/ present.  I know how to give really quality presents don't I?


 By 8:00 or so, it was over with everyone having had  a chance to meet us, see the ger, and assure themselves (hopefully!) that we would be OK to have in the neighbourhood and it was time to chill out a bit.

First things first, we had to return the borrowed furniture...isn't it lovely?
...kick back with a relaxed game of steppe volley ball...
..throw together a mixed bag of dinner, eat outside and watch the glorious setting sun and look back on what had been a wonderful day and a fantastic start to our ger living (burnt hand notwithstanding).
The beauty and strength of both this country and its people came into my ger last weekend, and I was privileged to be part of it.  Oh, and now I can cook sheep!
...As an added bonus, I got my first ever "big moon" shot. I didn't have my tripod so I balanced the camera outside on a ger stool with the lens propped up with a bit of packaging from the booz. Kind of a propos I think.  Thanks Mongolia.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kids with Kids.... and lots of Milk For Good Measure


Nothing quite like kids with, well, kids to let you
know that you're in the country! This last weekend I had a glorious couple of days out at the ger on the hunt for a very special and particular genus of horse at the request of my "horsey" friend in Canada ...and yes, I think we might have found what she was looking for, but that is, at the very least, a whole 'nother blog!...... and I had the opportunity to stumble upon some truly wonderful "country" moments like this one where the little boy was trying to make sure the kid stayed out of their swimming pool!!

He was not alone...a little tag team action from the other participants in the pool party and some on site 5 year old security!!












Kids!!  Oh, and when you are a real kid and you get kicked off the playground where do you go?  To your mom for a little comfort!

 



I have to say though, Mom does not look all that thrilled to be providing the comfort!! 

Some other wonderful moments....
Our SUV really does look big next to one of the little Korean cars....my question is how did that little car make it across the "roads" that you have to take to get to the ger.  Guess that makes him a real Mongolian driver!!!  I on the other hand don't really need the skill because I have the benefit of good clearance - a definite plus!


My friend Saraa works all the time when she is out at the ger...This weekend she came by to ask to borrow our water barrel as hers was full of....

Yogurt!  Delicious, wonderful home-made yogurt.  As part of her ger camp Saraa offers lessons to foreigners and other interested parties on making yogurt, butter, cheese and a whole host of local dairy products. So....if you are in Mongolia and want to learn how to do this (or just see it done!) let me know! The variety and volume of milk products that local Mongolia herders make is really astounding...and they cure and dry cheese, yogurt and curd so that it lasts for as much as ten years!  I am sure that in a traditional life style this provided (provides?) them with much needed calcium, protein and vitamins throughout the winter...but the taste is, well.....let's just say it's an acquired taste!


While I was out looking for specific horses for my friend, I got a few lovely shots I thought I would share with you... This one really cracked me up!! Now that is a horse with attitude!
Everywhere I looked there were foals huddling close to their mother for safety, comfort and sustenance......

And I even got a chance to see a mare being milked...one of those things that I have long wondered about as I don't recall seeing obvious teats on horses...not that I've really been looking for them, mind you...but stumbling upon it when I had my camera with me was truly an added bonus ..so here's how it's done...or, at least, how it appears to be done.

You hold the baby beside the mother in "nursing" position (almost) and then the lady with the bucket sneaks in, hooks the bucket over one wrist and then she proceeds to "be" the foal and milks the horse...and then of course,at some point in the future, you get airag the local fermented mildly alcoholic version of milk...kind of tastes like yogurt actually - not too bad.  And hey, there must be protein and stuff in there as well - kind of a healthy version of beer don't you think?
All this nursing and milking...my La Leche League friends would be proud!   In any case, that's the latest on life here at the end of the earth.  I am out at the ger again this weekend and hopefully I will remember to get some pictures of the inside of our ger for you all now that it is all put together (more or less!).


Oh, and just a tease...I am working on a Mongolian wild flower blog...some lovely lovely flowers here strewn about the steppe....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Roughing it- city style




Yesterday my family (visiting from overseas where things like smooth roads, hot water and internet are taken for granted!) were getting ready to leave to head back to North America when we discovered that we had no water ... no hot water, no cold water ... no water period.  This meant of course, no pre flight shower, no bathroom break, no brushing teeth.  Ok...there was water in the water bottle for teeth brushing, but it makes a much more dramatic story if we think of our poor intrepid travellers being sent off into the world of international departures with scum coated teeth doesn't it?  A quick call to the manager and we discovered that we would have cold water in two hours. Until then...just cross your legs.  Asked about when we would have hot water our Manager calmly replied...August first.


I was sure I had misheard, I mean I know that in Mongolia there are rolling hot water outages throughout the city but I was assured when we moved in that as we were on the same water plant as the President we did not experience this daunting lack of hot water...maybe all the work they have been doing for the past several months in the back yard has been connecting us to "city" water so that we too can enjoy the summer hiatus from comfortable showers.  The water that remains (when it is on...which hasn't been much in the last 24 hours!) is not luke warm either. Cold.  Cold. Cold!! As in freezing, frigid, icy, bracing...well, you get the idea.  Cold.  This is not good news.  I like hot water.  Quite a lot as it turns out!


The other delightful thing? Our internet, while still technically working, has slowed to its own digital trickle. This of course, means you all will be subjected to less whining from me about the lack of water in my life as each blog post takes about 45 minutes to upload now....hmmm... I wonder if somehow the hot water was powering the internet?  Not likely, but the co incidence cannot be dismissed.  Oh well...after the first shock and horror passes, it all just becomes like everything else..you take the good with the bad.  Zugeer Zugeer ( Mongolian for "she'll be right mate" or "it's ok")...but if I don't respond to your email or if getting too close to me offends, just remember the situation I've got going on here....or maybe I'll just have to go to the ger since it turns out that the ancient lifestyle of the nomads is currently kicking the tar out of city living.....we've got running water at the ger. It's called the Tuul River.  And nobody is going to shut if off any time soon!


More later...if and when I get real internet so I can upload some photos and fill you in on the great ger warming party we had a few days ago with 30 or so herders at our ger in the countryside!  In the meantime, I think I'll go take a cold shower.  If we have water.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Naadam Opening Ceremonies...part two.



Part Two



As I told you yesterday, I have too many photos for only one blog on the opening ceremonies for Naadam - I have 15 minutes this morning before I have to load up the car with the aforementioned sheep etc etc etc for our ger warming party, but I thought I would try and get this up before heading out. So, with a nod toward verbal brevity, here are a few more views of moments at Naadam - starting with a shot of our friend Andy ( yes, that is the anglicized version of his name - the full version, like most Mongolian names has about 26 letters and I would prefer not to misspell it so I'll just stick with "Andy").  We had matching National Symbol tattoos....cool!



This little guy was treated like royalty and had a starring role in the Mongol History portion of the event...I thought he was supposed to be a young Chinggis Khan...turns out he was LAST YEAR's Naadam horse race winner...Yikes!  He looks like he's still too young to be in control of a horse, but that is just the way they roll here in Mongolia.


After the opening ceremonies were over, the wrestling began.  And yes, these guys are wearing the official wrestling uniform.  Dig the boots!... well and everything else of course.  The judges / coaches / referees all have their own glistening costumes as well which makes the event a visual masterpiece...ish.
Doing the Eagle Dance as his coach prepares to take his hat and send him into the "ring".
My choice for the Mongolian Coca Cola Ad Campaign!! Any suggestions for a suitable tag line?
Fast and furious round robin wrestling!  They have ten rounds over two days to whittle the field of 500 or so down to a winner and two runners up.  The winners ( which shows you what a big deal the sport is here!!) receive their medals from the President.  Yup...the national "hello I'm the boss" President.  
More Coca Cola spots...
They have children's wrestling as well - not sure if this was a competitor or just someone getting into it at an early age....proud papa though! Here's a look at what was going on outside the stadium after the opening ceremonies finished.
...Little girl on Dad's shoulders doing the Eagle Dance.
Crowds and crowds and crowds outside!!  Plus a huge number of stalls all selling the same thing -- Khoshoor (Mongolian Cornish pastie) and kebab kind of things cooked over very smoky barbecues!  We opted for a traditional restaurant across the street.  Here's a look at what we saw on our walk across the street.


Cute couple aren't they?

Helping Granddad take the tourist for rides on the horse...well, to be fair, I also saw a number of "City" Mongolians up on the horses showing their kids how to ride.  Requisite knowledge if you are going to claim Mongolian citizenship - which, I guess, means that that should be next on my to-do list....
Yet another Mongolian decorated in tattoos...this one definitely wins the "cute" prize!  But, as you can see, everyone from young to old was out for the party ...and having a wonderful time!
Panache and style...oh and a rockin' colour combination!  These guys have got it all goin' on. They were Gorgeous!!  Love it!


Ok - I saved the best for last....well maybe not the best, but certainly my favourite!  I watched these two friends try and try and try to cover each other with their scarves throughout the entire twenty minutes or so when they were lined up around the outside of the stadium and providing colour for the event by supposedly swaying in time and making their colourful shawls ripple.  A little more than a ripple with these guys!

Well, that's it - as you might suspect I do have tons more pics but, alas,  no time to post them...that says something about my life here at the end of the earth...doesn't it?



Oh, and one more thing... Caihan Naadarai - Happy Naadam to you!!