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Giraffe meat and coffee breaks for all!

3 Mar
Yum'o'clock!

Yum’o’clock!

When I was in Hungary, I lived with ten other people. There was chaos, there was drama; there was fun being had at all times; but most importantly, there were coffee breaks. We had a coffee break every day at 10 or 11, and it included a side of fruit and a sweet. No matter where everyone was or how they were feeling, we got together for coffee and treats, dangit!

So much of the world revolves around these times of leisure and food intake, but for some reason, it’s not a thing in the U.S. And why not?! I think the working world would be much more productive if they got together in the afternoon to chat and drink hot beverages. But I digress.

One of those “hot beverage break” countries is Jordan. You guys might remember my world-traveling sister who brought me back awesome Middle-Eastern gifts last year.  Well, next she went to Jordan to volunteer at a tuberculosis hospital (no, I’m not lying, and yes, she’s the modern day Florence Nightingale). She said every day everyone got together for tea, and so she recreated the experience for our family.

Mysterious herbs no one can remember the name of.

Mysterious herbs and seeds.

The tea was actually from Jordan: strong, sweet and black with a hint of mint.  We had bread from the Arab market which we dipped into jam or olive oil. If you chose olive oil, you could then dip into some green herbs that tasted like salty wheat (in a weird, yummy way). The bottle the herbs came in is completely in Arabic and my sister can’t remember what it’s called, so we were all eating an unknown substance possibly containing death and/or giraffe meat (technically, anything COULD contain giraffe meat. You never know). But it was good, so…into my mouth it went!

In other news, she also got black, green and red olives, which I adored because my whole family hates olives and I almost never get to eat them.

Said olives.

Said olives.

There was food and there was tea and I still don’t know why America never got into tea/coffee time. I nominate that we start a movement in favor of it! Like:

#TeaTime4America (Oh. Well. Maybe not that one)

#GimmeABreak4Tea (What do you mean it makes you want chocolate?!)

#PeanutButterJellyTimePEANUTBUTTERJELLYPEANUTBUTTERJE… (what was I doing, again?)

Well, I’m still working on it. Suggestions welcome! 😉

The lame and acclaim of the Sochi games

8 Feb

I feel as though I need to comment on the Sochi games. I obviously know a whole lot about Russia (I’ve written one and a half blog posts about the country) and sports (I covered one sports-related event for our local paper), so I’m pretty sure I qualify as an expert.

Suuuuure, expert.

At least, Olympic Bear thinks so.

So, without further ado, here’s some stories about the winter Olympics I gathered from various sources on the all-knowing Internet:

Russians have interesting toilets. There have been a ton of complaints/unbelief online about the toilets in the Olympic Village and surrounding areas. I find most of them amusing, if not stinking of first world problems (stinking…hehe). Check out this audience toilet…all I have to say is, at least the athletes aren’t being subjected to squatty potties!

Speaking of bathrooms…a U.S. bobsledder got stuck in one. And then he used his bobsled skills to kick the door down. Because no matter how hard-working and determined you may be, claustrophobia always wins.

gaga

(picture from Johnny Quinn’s Twitter)

The Jamaican bobsled team is calling themselves JamBob. Plus they opened up about training in Wyoming, their desire to bring sunshine and rhythm to the games, and money vs. heart in this article. Aww. In the words of Mr. Sunshine himself, “One love, one sled…let’s get in together and run all right.”

An Austrian athlete fell down during the opening ceremony, proving that even the most athletic of us can occasionally face plant for no reason at all. The only one looking very concerned about it is the guy front and left – “Uhhh guys, do I step over him, or wait, or what?!”

Courtesy of HuffingtonPost

Courtesy of the Huffington Post

There you have it, folks. Some of my favorite happenings so far from the Winter Olympics! And let’s not forget the awesomeness of countries getting together for friendly competition. Read here about the historical Olympic Truce and how it promotes worldwide peace. Three cheers for Sochi 2014!

I’d like to buy the world a….Vimto?

27 Jan
mmm...?

The can of Suspicious.

So, I have a sister who goes to international markets and brings me home mystery drinks. Go ahead – be jealous. Now we can get on to business.

What the heck is Vimto? That was my question when I was holding a cold can of it last week. The writing on the can didn’t help – the name was in English, but the description seemed to be in French (“a bubbly, fruit-flavored beverage”) and there was also some sort of Arabic symbol (translation: no idea).

Undeterred by my ignorance, I took a sip. It was…interesting. It tasted like the color maroon, like a mix of sickly sweet berries you might find on a bush in a lonesome desert oasis. It wasn’t quite cough medicine, but it wasn’t far off, either.

A quick google told me that Vimto originated in the U.K. The berry flavor comes from grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants. The drink has had some interesting advertising history: check out this commercial. Maybe it’s a British joke, because I don’t understand a thing.

Vimto is popular in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, and apparently it’s drunk a lot during Ramadan. So that explains the Arabic on the can. This particular Vimto can was made with “Sparkling Canadian Water,” so I’m guessing that’s why there’s French as well.

I can’t say I was too enthused by Vimto. I think part of this is because I love sugar. Vimto is sugar-free and makes up for it with a cocktail of “intense sweeteners.” I’m also not used to blackcurrant, and grape flavoring is not my favorite!

In the end, I’m glad to have drunk Vimto. It was an experience. It’s not quite Coke, but if I was dying of thirst and it was the only drink available, I’d “shlurple the purple!”

In which a Southerner’s heart goes way over her head

20 Oct
ss

OMG YUM

This, my friends, is one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. The place: Japan. The food: ramen. The feeling: ASDHADHIJFSG UNEXPLAINABLE. So good that I, a very un-Asian journalism student from Tennessee, decided to attempt making my own.

I’m slightly insane on normal days, and things like fall break only increase the crazy. Since I didn’t get to travel over the weekend and I’ve been craving what I fondly call “legit ramen” ever since I went to Tokyo last year, I decided to take the extra day my university blessed me with (that’s right. ONE. DAY.) and go for the gold, so to speak.

The nail-biting started at the ingredient list.

Shitake mushrooms, miso, pork belly, kelp, mirin…were these things at Kroger? Would I have to cross the street to Publix or take a drastic trip to the Asian Market?!

The answer: Kroger is stocked surprisingly well.

Even in bones. I was woefully ignorant of this fact.

Even in bones. I was woefully ignorant of this fact.

All the ingredients were bought, and it was time for prep. I squashed my feelings of foreboding and got to work hacking meat and removing livers. The worst part of making ramen is the way the recipe has you throw most things away. It’s all, “simmer the bacon for 45 minutes and discard.” I have to discard the bacon?! What kind of world is this?

The reason you discard everything is because the broth is just that – broth.  No stray carrots, no remnant of shredded chicken, no thinly-sliced onion. However, the stuff that brewed in the broth at one time or another? Pork bones, a whole chicken, vegetables, and let’s not forget the seaweed:

Best-lookin' start to soup I've ever seen..

Best-lookin’ start to soup I’ve ever seen..

The key word to this recipe is simmer. Yes, cooking it was an all-day (and a half) process, but it didn’t keep me in the kitchen the whole time. It was a whole lot of phone timers and “make sure nothing’s burning” sniffs. I even got out for a jog while the pork bones roasted in the oven.

Mmm...bones...

Mmm…bones…

At the end, I had a hearty, meaty broth that was all mouthfeel and not much flavor. That’s where the taré comes in. Taré is an intense sauce, boiled and simmered and, finally, reduced for an hour. The ingredient list was simple: soy sauce, mirin (rice sherry), and sake.

Which is gorgeous, by the way.

It’s like no one in Japan has bad handwriting?

I spiked the broth with the taré and it transformed into a flavorful pot of liquid that defies logic – impossibly meaty, yet completely smooth. Pretty unnerving. Thank you, Japanese cooks, for the confusing delight of ramen.

Now came the best part: toppings! I had bacon, corn, shallots, and slow-poached eggs to put in the ramen (it was my first time making eggs like this…they were surprisingly perfect!).

fff

Everyone said the egg was like an eyeball. I said, “A delicious eyeball.”

The result of my crazy, time-consuming ramen was…good. It was nothing amazing, and also not something I would spend that much time for again. Yet it was still really, really good, especially with the corn (weird, right?). And it was at least a distant, disenfranchised third cousin to the ramen I had in Tokyo, so I got to reminisce a bit. Have you ever spent a huge amount of time on a cooking experiment? Was it worth it?

Rainbows, babushkas and too much honey

5 Mar

IMG_0760

Once again, it’s snowing, and dreams of steaming liquid kept interrupting my homework. Cocoa is too rich, tea gets boring after awhile and contrary to popular belief, I try to limit my coffee intake somewhat. So an internet search revealed a few interesting international brews (one of which being Tibetan butter tea, which I’ll, um, save for another time…). I sifted through and landed on Russian sbiten, mostly because that whole meteor/asteroid thing last week was SO. COOL.

I’m kind of embarrassed by how little I know about Russia, considering that it’s the largest country in the whole world. Mostly my mind goes to what I’ve learned from America media, which is obviously never wrong: Vodka. Snow. Movie villains. Gulag. Stalin. KGB. All that good stuff.

Any culture with churches that could be the "end goal" in Candyland, I am into!

I say, any culture with rainbow churches is awesome! (photo cred: Obscurus Nox)

I really don’t know where I would begin if I was planning a visit to Russia. I’m a city girl, so for vacation, I would probably head to Moscow or St. Petersburg. I also love mountains, though, and the Ural range has everything a nature-lover could want!  Skiing, caving, hiking, ice fishing, rafting and even dog sledding! Seems legit.

After a long day of hiking in high elevations, I can imagine wanting some sbiten. Ah, heat you can drink! I was immediately attracted to this drink above the others because 1) it’s sweet and 2) it has jam and 3) I had all the ingredients on hand (it’s icy outside, y’all!).

Sbiten has been around for seven centuries and comes from the word sbit – to beat or pound – because Russians in the 14th century had to make their own spices with a mortar instead of buying the fancy “pre-ground” stuff from Kroger (thanks for reminding me how soft and spoiled I am, 14th-century Russians!).

The drink was pretty good. Very close to hot mulled cider, although my honey hand was a little heavy and thus, the sbiten was too sweet. Maybe I’ll try it again sometime; it’s simple to make (boil water, or if you’d like, red wine. Add spices, honey and jam. Let simmer awhile. Done!).

dubious, yet glamorous babushka

This dubious, yet glamorous, babushka said she’s had worse sbiten before, so…success!

If you’re in an adventurous mood and have ten minutes to make sbiten, go for it! And while you’re at it, you can read this lovely quote from Lonely Planet that will have your heart yearning for a plane ticket to Asia:

“For centuries the world has wondered what to believe about Russia. The country has been reported variously as a land of unbelievable riches and indescribable poverty, cruel tyrants and great minds, generous hospitality and meddlesome bureaucracy, beautiful ballets and industrial monstrosities, pious faith and unbridled hedonism. These eternal Russian truths coexist in equally diverse landscapes of icy tundra and sun-kissed beaches, dense silver birch and fir forests and deep and mysterious lakes, snow-capped mountains and swaying grasslands. Factor in ancient fortresses, luxurious palaces, swirly spired churches and lost-in-time wooden villages and you’ll begin to see why Russia is simply amazing.”

Laffy Taffys, world climates and natural disasters

4 Feb
Clouds are one of my favorite aspects of "weather" (sunset in Serbia)

Clouds are one of my favorite aspects of “weather.” (sunset in Serbia)

This week in Nashville there was a beautiful 70 degree day, a crazy storm that produced 8 tornadoes, a sudden drop to 20 °F and substantial snow. Like, “you could see it on the ground” substantial.

Welcome to Tennessee! Where no one worries about global warming because, well, it’s always been like this.

Some of my fondest memories growing up include spending spring afternoons in our basement, the tornado siren blaring outside. Occasionally we sat under a mattress. We would listen to radio dramas and eat Laffy Taffys (or, if the power was out, ice cream!). Tornado warnings seemed to come twice a week.

One December, we had enough snow to build a small igloo, and then a few days later, we wore shorts to hike on Christmas Eve.

The crazy weather made me contemplate climates in other parts of the world, so I give you…Carly’s World Weather Lists!

Best overall climate:

Faulconbridge, Australia is rumored to be rated “the most equitable climate” by the World Meteorological Organization. It sits 1, 463 feet above sea level, has evenly distributed rainfall and year-round mild temperatures. If you’re not careful, you might forget there’s such a thing as seasons.

Most alien-like:

Dotted with volcanoes and never free of hazardous gases, Danakil Desert in Ethiopia supposedly has the oddest sights, smells, landscape and temperatures in one location.  Its nickname is “Hell on Earth.” Since there is lava just waiting to bubble over the surface of the ground, temperatures can reach up to 115 degrees regularly! There are salt flats, mineral springs, sulfur pits, lava lakes and acid ponds. It has the only below-sea-level volcano. Although not ideal for a relaxing vacation, Danakil is a hit tourism spot for thrill-seekers. I like thrills, but…I…don’t know…

Biggest temperature range:

Verkhoyansk, a town in Siberia, Russia, has a record high of 99.14 °F. Although that doesn’t sound high, let’s remember that it’s in Siberia. Also, their record low is -93.6 °F, giving the two extremes a difference of almost 200 degrees! And I thought Nashville weather was bipolar.

Most dangerous places to live:

Oklahoma City, OK. has been hit by more tornados than anywhere in the world.

The Phillipines cash in with the most hurricanes – they have up to 20 per year!

Japan and Indonesia are the earthquake capitals of the world. Indonesia has more earthquakes total, but Japan has more earthquakes per square kilometer.

Latacunga, Ecuador has been destroyed by the Cotopaxi Volcano four times in the past 300 years. And yet they keep rebuilding…

Well, the world has some pretty crazy places. I hope you, reading this, stay safe from disasters and have fun in your home’s climate! I still have a few months before tornado season starts, so maybe you’ll get a few more blog posts before my laptop is sucked into a swirling vortex of wind. There’s no place like home!

Gifts from the الشرق الأوسط

29 Jan

News flash: I haven’t been out of the country in eight loooong months.

BUT. My sister and dad visited the “Gulfies” recently (countries in the Middle East near the Persian Gulf) and brought back some goodies to enjoy! I’m sharing a few of them here because they are international, for one, and most have to do with food. Actually, they’re all food-related. My fam knows what I like!

And you thought there wouldn't be coffee involved...ha!

And you thought there wouldn’t be coffee involved…ha!

Out of everywhere they went, Abu Dhabi is hands down the city with the most fun name to say. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, it’s second in size to the more well-known (and flashy!) Dubai. There are 23 Starbucks stores in Abu Dhabi!

The coffee is from Oman (east of Yemen, where coffee was first cultivated) and apparently what a tourist gets when they ask for “the most traditional coffee” available. I have yet to try it, but it’s a very fine ground meant to be brewed in the Turkish style.

espresso

Baby espresso cups

When my sister bought the coffee, the seller offered these “espresso cups” along with it. She declined, but the seller insisted and finally gave them to her for free. I conclude that the salesperson, although very nice, is not super great at her job. The cups are really tiny. I make my coffee strong, but I still drink more than a thimbleful! But they were free, and the awesome thing is that they are “Japanese style” cups made in China and sold in Oman. Yep.

chocolateeeee

Chocolateeeee

Their trip included a stopover in Amsterdam on the way home, which is where my sister picked up the hagelslag (yeah, that ain’t Arabic). I am infamous for loving tiny things, and both of these chocolate goodies are only about two inches tall. Small things make me want to die inside and smile and cry all at the same time (imagine what happened when I saw these at Kroger). I might eat them one day. Or I might just leave them on display and get emotional whenever I see them. Whichever.

Although I’m a little jealous of anyone who travels sans me, the next best thing is hearing about and getting little gifts from the trips of others. What’s the most exciting “souvenir” you’ve received?