Saturday, November 25, 2006

Turkey Day

My first Thanksgiving in a foreign land turned out better than I thought it would. Though my search for a turkey yielded a 2.5 kilogram filet-o-turkey rather than a whole bird, I think that was just the right amount of meat for us, so it was alright. The fact that I found any turkey at all is amazing – it’s not really a popular meat here. What was really worrying me was how I was going to cook it. Without a body cavity, how does one stuff a turkey? After consulting Grandma and others, we settled on covering it in butter and the spice mix that Misha the spice man said was good for poultry, and stuck it in the oven for a couple of hours. Luckily Adam’s computer has a Fahrenheit to Celsius converter, so we even figured out what 350˚ is on my oven (~177˚). I was afraid it would be a bit dry but it was really tasty. I found a jar of cranberry jam at the market as well, another rather serendipitous find that I wasn’t expecting. Though a little sweeter than the usual cranberry sauce, it tasted really good with the turkey.

The other sides were a little less traditional. Mashed potatoes are a must with turkey, but Adam decided to do things the Russian way and made them from a box. :-/. I hate box potatoes. They taste like cardboard. But that’s what happens when you leave guys in charge of something as easy and important as mashed potatoes. Aaron, his Belgian girlfriend Caroline, and their Chinese neighbor Yusi decided that since we are such an international bunch we might as well have an international Thanksgiving spread. So they made a whole bunch of dim sum. My, it was tasty. They made potato-filled ones for the veggie-heads who were coming and a bunch with ground beef. It was perfect. We also had a bottle of Chilean wine and (being Russia) vodka. All in all, it was a nice meal. We sat around eating and laughing, with Adam playing random American folk songs every now and then on Yusi’s broken guitar (the g-string was always out of tune, no matter what we did to it). Afterwards we toasted some pumpkin seeds that I had found in the Market, a less-than-perfect substitute for the pumpkin pie that I was unable to make (pumpkin can only be found here in September and early October, and only fresh ones). A little latter, Isa (one of the Poles) showed up with a tiramisu-ish dish she had made for our little celebration. Oh, I ate so much. By the time I walked home (through newly-fallen snow :-D), I was absolutely stuffed.

I was expecting to get a phone call from some of my family members, so I stayed up a little later than usual, watching Harry Potter. Around 2 I figured they had forgotten to call me, so I started getting ready for bed. Unfortunately, right about then the power went out in the building. Whilst fumbling around for the fusebox, I met some new Russian students. IGLU is hosting a tournament this weekend, so there are some students from other cities staying in our dorm. They insisted that I come have tea with them (I think they wanted to practice their English), so I ended up sitting over in their kitchen until about 3. Then I went back to my room and watched part of another movie. I finally succumbed to my bed at around 4, a bit bummed that I hadn’t gotten to talk to anyone at the farm on Thanksgiving.

Even with the anticlimactic ending, I think things went well this Thanksgiving – though I will be glad to be back at home next year. There’s something about being with all the extended family that makes Thanksgiving special, and it’s the one holiday that I’ve missed so far that I regret missing.

But then, I’ll be home in 25 days.pan style=""> Woohoo!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving-in-a-foriegn-land Tip #1

Don't leave any of the cooking up to the guys - otherwise, your mashed potatoes will be from a box.

Yay for subtitles!

I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban today – the movie, not the book (you may recall that I already purchased a Russian version of the book). I was thrilled to discover that not only does the disc have English and Russian language tracks and subtitles (and the Russian dubbing is actually rather good), but for some as-yet unknown reason, it also includes Swedish and Icelandic. Now I’m rather curious as to why the makers of this DVD found it necessary to include these last two languages. While I’m excited by the prospect of watching the movie in Swedish with Icelandic subtitles, I’m not quite sure how many people in this part of the world would find this feature useful. You’d think they might include Mongolian or Ukrainian or another neighboring language. But who knows – maybe the makers of this version were trying to convince Ikea that the grounds in Mother Russia are fertile enough for more of their stores.

Of course, the language options on this disc are nothing in comparison to the copy of Almost Famous that I bought in St. Petersburg. While the only spoken languages are English and Russian, the number of subtitles is astonishing…

  1. English
  2. Russian
  3. Hindi
  4. Polish/Polski
  5. Czech/Cesky
  6. Hungarian/Magyar
  7. Icelandic/Islenska
  8. Hebrew/Ivrit
  9. Croatian/HRVATSKI
  10. Bulgarian
  11. Turkish
  12. Danish/Dansk
  13. Swedish/Svenska
  14. Greek
  15. Arabic
  16. Spanish/Español
  17. Portuguese/Portugues
  18. Norwegian/Norsk
  19. Finnish/Suomi

I was half expecting number 20 to be Elfish, but I guess that would really be pushing it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

On a slightly happier note...

I wanted this to be separate from today's other post because I really wrote that one last night and it wrapped up so nicely I didn't want to mess with it.
Look at your calendar. What is today? November 21! What does that mean? IN EXACTLY 30 DAYS I WILL BE ON A PLANE HOME!!!
Now don't get me wrong. Irkutsk is a nice place. I've enjoyed my time here, even if there have been a few downward plunges. But I'm ready to be back in Texas, eating some TexMex and listening to some good local bands play. If anyone is trying to find me on Christmas Eve, you'll probably succeed if you go see the Texana Dames at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in Austin. :-D. That is the only concrete plan I've made thus far. Everything else is by ear.
One thing that's kind of bumming me out about being this close to my departure date is the fact that I haven't made it to Mongolia yet. Well, I hate to say it, but I just don't think it's going to happen at this point. For one thing, my visa STILL isn't ready. In fact, my current one expires today, so until I get my passport back from the visa office next Monday, I'm going to be avoiding the cops like the plague (they don't usually mess with European-looking females, but you never know). Even if everything is in order and I get my new visa by next Monday, that's only three weeks before I leave. At this point, it's too close to the end of the semester (and the exams that that entails) for me to go gallivanting off across Central Asia. As much as it pains me to have gotten this far and not be able to get any further, that's life in Russia. It's so close to everything, yet so far away. Grrrrr. It would be one thing if it was my own fault, but it's not. I have the lovely ladies in the international students' office to thank for my troubles. Sigh. C'est la vie and move on, as always.
Anyway, I'm not letting that ruin my happy month-to-go milestone. Can't wait to see you all. Eat lots of turkey for me....

You say poTAYto, I say poTAHto

Since Chris finds it necessary to make us all jealous by describing all the wonders of the world of Swiss cuisine, from chocolate to cheese, I think it’s high time I put forth a food post of my own. Though I warn thee – read with caution. My diet isn’t not quite as gourmet.

It’s a good thing that I’ve not joined the fad and given up the consumption of carbs. Otherwise, I think I would have wasted away by now, because for the most part, my current diet depends heavily upon the consumption of carb-heavy foodstuffs. Let’s look at the last week’s worth of dinners – potatoes, rice, buttered pasta, potatoes, potatoes, pasta, and more potatoes. I usually throw in some tomatoes or the “salsa” stuff that the old ladies make that’s so good, but other than that, it’s basically just a lot of starch. Now, I’m not doing this because I can’t find anything else, and I’ve only just recently become conscious of how bad this diet is. But it’s just so dang easy. Every kiosk and corner store has loads of taters and rice and pasta for sale. But in order to get meat (I mean REAL meat, not sausage or “pashtet” – Russian pate) I pretty much have to walk on down to the market. Which is less and less enjoyable considering how cold it’s getting outside (current temperature at noon = -20C). On the weekends I can take a bus directly down there, but on school days, unless I want to go home and back, I have to walk because there’s not an easy-to-take bus route from the university. I know. I’m lazy. I should just suck it up, walk the walk or pay an extra 5 rubles for a bus fare. But I don’t, and I don’t know why.

And carbs taste good. The fresh baked bread is awesome – and only 9 rubles per loaf still warm from the oven. And I’m getting good at adding to my potatoes – different veggies and such. And I can’t forget all the blini and kasha – my usual lunch fare. At the “Blinnaya” cafĂ© down the street from the university, I can get a double portion of blini with “cguschenyi moloko” (sweetened condensed milk), a bowl of rice kasha with butter, and a cup of tea (with sugar and lemon) for a grand total of 40 rubles. That may not sound like a lot, but as Erica once told me, I “eat like a bird”. I don’t have a big appetite, and this fills me up quite nicely until dinnertime. And the staff doesn’t even have to ask what I want anymore :-D (I can’t decide if this is a good or a bad thing).

Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to make up for the excesses of this summer. I went way over my personal budget when I was in Europe, and this is me punishing myself. At this rate, if I keep eating potatoes instead of “beefshteaks”, I will have gotten myself out of this financial rut by New Years. And then I can put my anti-credit-card resolution into play. Also, I kind of feel bad about the difference between my situation in the care of the McDermott Program and the finances of the local students here. Someone told me that a good student stipend in Irkutsk is 300-500 rubles per month (approx. 12-20 dollars). I spend about 100 rubles a day (if I don’t buy any DVDs or CDs) – and that’s ON the carb diet. This is one of the reason’s I’m not looking forward to returning to Dallas. Central Market and Waterview Park will quickly liquidate my bank account if I’m not careful. Of course, there’s always fresh tortillas and queso at Taco Cabana…

Worry not though – I’m not wasting away. I’m still here and going strong. And I’ve got good meal plans for this week, though probably not as good as most of you. The two American boys and I are going to try our best to give each other a taste of home on Thursday. As yall get ready to stuff yourselves full of all the things I can’t get for Thanksgiving (oh, what I wouldn’t give for a slice of pecan pie and one of grandma’s caramel brownies), just picture me scouring the city of Irkutsk for a decent turkey. I asked my roommate yesterday if she knew where I could find one and her answer was, “I think I can get you a live one.” Oh boy. I think this is going to have to be a post of it’s own…