Friday, November 25, 2011

Catching Up (a post by B)

Well, it's been quite busy the past few weeks.  So, we'll start with Halloween.  It's becoming more of a known holiday here.  I think it's just another excuse to party.  

So, party we did - we invited over our friends in the English club, as they really wanted to see an American-style Halloween.  I even decorated the apartment in a "spooky" theme with "spooky" food and all.  There was quite a turnout and fun was had by all.  An advantage of being here is that they haven't seen the type of food that is typically done for Halloween parties like spider cupcakes, eyeball eggs, and ghost toast.  People even came dressed up which is always fun.

We then had a few weeks when it was a bit slower.  In those weeks, Steven's class had a "mother's" presentation in which some of the students recited poems.  There was one in the local language, one in Russian, and they asked Steven to do one in English.  

We taught him a version of the "Roses are red" poem for mothers but I guessed he had Russian on the brain because when it was his turn, he started reciting something in Russian (still not sure what it was).  So, I had to give him a prompt before he did it, but he did OK in the end.  He even got a certificate for participating.

Sorry about the video, it got cut off a bit short (plus you might hear Matthew getting excited about Steven getting to talk):

We also found that the local meat market was open last week, so we went to stock up for the winter.  This is when all the farmers slaughter their cows and sell the meat at a discount with no middlemen.  They wait until it's freezing, and that way people can buy all the meat they want and just put the extra on their balcony (remember, our balcony is way colder than our freezer).  

Because there's no difference in the price for which cut of meat you get, Jesse was able to get a beef backstrap for the same price as any other meat!  So now we have some nice filet mignon waiting in our "freezer."  The downside of this whole process is that they just cut off the part of the cow you want with an axe, and you have to do the butchering yourself at home.

Then came Steven's birthday.  WOW!  I can't believe he is 5 already.  My beautiful baby boy is growing up. So, we continued with our balloon tradition and hid his presents under balloons so he could find them.  We had several neighbors over to help celebrate the occasion which I think Steven's loved since there were several kids there for him to play with.

Matthew didn't want to be out of the loop for all the excitement, so he snuck in and tried to blow out Steven's candles for him!

Presents from the grandparents far, far away:

He seems to really like both of them!

We'll have to post next time on Thanksgiving, as this post is long enough already!  The short version is that we had friends over and made all the fixings (from scratch, of course) including a goose.  So, today, after I dropped the boys off at school, I spent Black Friday in bed doing nothing.  It was all I hoped it would be!

In other news, our puppy is getting bigger and bigger.  I've never house trained a dog before but he seems to be obeying more and more commands so I think it's working (he still likes to pee on the floor so I'll take suggestions as to how to manage this).  The boys love him but we will wait for a time when we don't have anything to write about to blog on that. 

And with that, I leave you with this thought - HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Warning: This Post May Be Hazardous to Your Stomach!

 Due to an extreme lack of interesting things going on, or at least interesting things that we have pictures of, I decided to go back and post something that happened way back in August.  I would have posted it then but we were in Moscow and there were other things to post, so I saved it for a rainy day.  And it's snowing, which is close enough.

Anyway, I've started this post out with a picture of our cute new puppy Dexter, so you have plenty of warning if you have a weak stomach before you scroll down.  Because this week, we're going to walk you through a traditional T event, the "sheep cutting," which is a bit difficult on Western sensibilities.

Are you ready?  This is a picture of the neighborhood outside my language helper's house where I went for the meal.  I know it's not that interesting; I post it as one final warning that if you have a weak stomach, now is the time to stop scrolling.

Still with me?  Cool.  Here we go:

This is A, my language helper.  He knew that I had been wanting to help out in a T traditional sheep slaughter, as it's a big part of the culture.  He invited me over when his family ran out of meat and were getting ready to remedy the situation.  Above you can see him readying his knife, which is very important.  You really need a sharp knife to properly slaughter in the T fashion.

Now, I don't have a picture of the actual killing, because I was holding down the goat (I know I promised a sheep slaughter, but it's basically the same thing).  However, the thing to remember is that the T still practice the traditional central Asian slaughter method passed down since the time of Genghis Khan.  The people believed at that time, and still do in fact, that the earth was sacred, and you couldn't pour blood onto it without offending the spirits.  Therefore, you have to slaughter your animals without spilling their blood, which means you can't do the Western thing where we slice the animal's throat and let it bleed out.

Instead, you cut a small slit into the skin just below the rib cage, and actually put your hand into the chest cavity.  When you feel the heart, you pinch the main artery just above the heart, which kills the animal quite quickly and relatively painlessly, if you know what you're doing.  I had to help out by basically choking the goat at the same time A did all that, since he couldn't seem to get a firm grip on the artery, but it still went pretty quickly.

Anyway, when you're done you have a dead goat with all of its blood still inside.  Then comes the hard work of skinning without tipping the animal over, so that its blood stays inside the abdominal cavity.

The skinning has to be done mostly with your fingers, as you don't want to cut the animal and risk puncturing and letting the blood out.  It's a good workout for your knuckles; really hard to do in some spots.

Eventually you have a skinned goat, resting upside down on his own skin to keep the meat off the ground.  Now you have to get the blood out, and since it's a major part of the feast, there are non-spiritual reasons for not letting it spill.  Here you can see A carefully ladling it into a pot (more on what happens to it later).

The ladies always get stuck with the job of cleaning out the intestines.  I'll leave it to your imagination what it is exactly that they have to clean out of there, or you can watch this video to have your worst suspicions confirmed.  This is only really disgusting if you are watching it knowing that pretty soon they're going to fill them with blood and you're going to have to eat it!

It takes a lot of work, but I'm sure that they get at least 90% of the contents removed before putting it in the pot to cook.  Leaving a mere 10% or so of the previous occupants of the intestines still there.

Leaving the ladies to their work, us men go over and start the fire to get a massive pot boiling:

While it heats up, it's time to prepare the blood.  A bit of salt, a few spices and herbs, and then it's time to mix.  This is my hand, mixing the blood up, which you have to do so it doesn't congeal before you can get it into the intestines.  Texture?  Indescribable, I'm afraid.  Lucky you.

Now the ladling of the blood mixture. You have to do this carefully, and once a piece of intestine is full, you have to tie it off so the blood doesn't leak out.  

Then all the bits of guts go into this big pot, there to boil until they are a sort of grayish-brown on the outside.  Very appetizing.

See?  If that isn't appetizing, I don't know what is:


This is a piece of the one from the video you watched above.  To my great fortune, we were having this shindig right next to A's garden, and they had dill and green onion growing there, which were served with the "hot blood," as the delicacies are known in T.  I've had this dish quite a few times, but the addition of the green onion really helped to cover the flavor.  Somewhat.

You can't refuse - it's simply their favorite thing to eat, and they love to serve it to guests.  Imagine if someone came to your house and gagged when you gave them pizza from your favorite place or something. 

Below is the cross-section of that bigger piece from above.  As you can see, the blood sort of bubbles up inside, leading to an interesting texture.  Actually, the blood pudding-stuff inside the intestine isn't that hard to get down - it goes straight down.  It's the outer intestine that is hard to swallow, as it simply doesn't come apart as you chew.

Later that night, this is all that's left.  It really is interesting to see the way that different cultures and cuisines can shape differing palates.  What to me is something hard to choke down is literally most T people's favorite food.  

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this photo walkthrough on a typical T feast.  To those of you brave enough to read to the end, I salute you!

As for us, only one really big bit of news: our documents were accepted to apply for permanent residency!  Now that the application is in, we have to wait 6 months to find out the decision, but at least it's out of our hands.  Hopefully sometime next spring/summer we'll become permanent residents of T-land, and then we can enjoy feasts like this all the time!