Saturday, June 20, 2009

A New Kitchen

It has been eight months since we left home for this opportunity to serve. We can't believe how fast time passes!

This post will likely be of most interest to our family. Just a short update about our little apartment.

Remember the early pictures of our apartment? Here's one or two to remind you what the kitchen looked liked. The tile was black with dirt and grease and there was virtually no counter top space.

But we have been working on it for nearly eight months, now -- whenever we could find a few minutes here and there. We figure we will be living here for about two years and it is worth it to make it a little nicer. And the couple who follows us here will likely appreciate it, as well.

Note the homemade bread on the counter. The bread here tends to be a bit heavy and stale. So we make all of our own bread. And boy is it good! Of course, there is a down side. It seems that we have this uncontrollable urge to eat a good chunk of it just as it comes out of the oven! Hot bread and honey -- yummy! You see, we have this great bread recipe that is easy and irresistible. You ought to try it sometime (inside joke)!

But we try to keep our landlord from learning about the improvements. We hear that if one makes such improvements and the landlord finds out, they have been know to raise the rent because the place is much nicer and worth more now!! Go figure!

As you can see, we've added a bit of counter top by shifting things around in the apartment, dug out and replaced the grout (and yes, it was VERY difficult!), covered the mess under the sink and changed the hangers for kitchen tools, etc. It has made a big difference and we like it a lot better!

We've also added quite a bit of new shelving here and there. For example, though the spice rack between the wall cabinets appears in all of these pictures, it was actually one of the first things we added. There's probably one or two more things we will do, yet, but it's coming along pretty good.

Next post -- the new bathroom!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Countryside - Conclusion

Our day in the Mongolian countryside continued to be one rich experience as our host family finished the process they had started (see previous two blog entries). It was fascinating to watch as they made final preparations for our evening meal.

Once the goat was cut into pieces, they began the cooking process. Not what we were used to, but actually fairly similar to what some of our young scouts have been known to do in the states. They used a milk can.

While all of the 'fun' we've been describing was going on outside, the family had been warming up the stove inside their ger. We sort of thought they would likely just pan fry the meat. Nope! They used the fire in the stove to heat rocks. And remember the pictures of the area? No trees, right? So what does one use for fueling a fire? Well, dried cow dung, of course!

He started placing pieces of goat in the milk can (see above).

Then, he would remove a hot rock from the fire box of the hot stove (you know, the rocks that had been carefully heated in burning cow dung), knock the ashes from them by hitting them and rolling them around on the top of the stove and then put them in the milk can with the meat. Then, more meat, more rocks, more meat, more rocks, some potatoes, beets, salt, etc. Cooked this way it is called Khorkhog (the k's are silent).

By this time, the ger was getting pretty hot inside. The heat didn't seem to bother them much. They were probably used to it. As for us, give us an good old air conditioned home any day!

Finally, he sealed the milk can and locked it closed, placed it on top of the hot stove and added additional heat using the propane torches. As you can see in the picture, the flame would, at times become quite large. We wondered how safe it was! We were sure glad they were experienced at all this!

It was really hot in there now, and most of us opted to wait outside for the rest of the cooking process.

About 75 minutes later, the can full of food was ready to eat! It actually tasted quite good! However, that goat was not really all that plump and well filled out. And the meat was a bit on the skimpy side as it was attached to and wrapped around the bones. But the flavor was really good and the potatoes and beets (Mongolian beets are orange and quite different from ours) were excellent!

As you might have figured out, they have no refrigeration. So what does one do with a milk can full of meat? They invite all of the neighbors over and have a big feast! They rotate those dinners between several ger families and don't worry about refrigerating anything -- at least not in the summer. No problem in the winter! Nature provides a wonderful deep freeze!

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Ulaanbaatar. A bit later than we had anticipated, but we counted it as worth it!

Don't you wish you were here? Don't worry. We watched very carefully and would be happy to provide the same meal when we return home! Anyone got a spare goat?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Countryside - Part 2

As we mentioned, our host family was very cordial and made us feel very welcome. Two of their little granddaughters were staying with them for the summer (a common thing here in Mongolia) and they were as cute as little buttons (especially the youngest one)!

lunchNot long after we first arrived (and actually before Elder Caldwell's horse ride), the family offered us a little bit of lunch. If you look closely, you can probably identify the following: bread, butter, white cheese (both made by our hosts), a spread made of cooked milk, flour and sugar, hot milk (they like hot drinks here and prefer hot water over cold) and, yes, wrapped pieces of commercially purchased candy. It was actually pretty tasty.

Sister Caldwell is drinking some of the milk in this picture. It was not the arig we have seen on other occasions, but just hot milk watered down a bit, with a little bit of salt. It didn't seem to have the off taste we have found in the store bought milk. Notice the furnishings just behind Sister Caldwell. Considering what they are, some of the gers we have been are rather nicely and comfortably arranged. There were also two queen sized beds.

During the afternoon another man appeared herding a small group of horses. He then caught a couple of them using the hoop you can see in the pictures. But then he just let them go and we couldn't quite figure out what he was doing until our guide explained that it was all just a show for our benefit!

You can see that this little valley is rather pretty in it's own way. Lots of green grass and rolling hills --- and quiet! Noticeable by their absence is the lack of trees. That is the rule in this part of the country. However, other parts (which we also hope to visit) are very mountainous and full of trees --- kind of like Utah! We have seen pictures and they have shown a completely different side of Mongolia we do hope we have opportunity to visit, at some point.

Then it came time to start preparing dinner! Again, we had no idea all of this was going to be taking place. We thought we were just out for an afternoon drive! It soon became apparent we would be a bit longer than just the afternoon (which was a bit problematic for us -- we were supposed to be at a baptismal service that night with dinner for our branch missionaries). But it really was an interesting trip and well worth it!

Now, remember that goat we mentioned? Well, our host and our vehicle driver (I forgot to mention we had a driver - that's him in the blue pants with the stripe), went over to the coral, grabbed the little goat, threw him on his back and pinned him down. Then they cut a incision in it's stomach, reached in and . . . . well, you get the picture! We had goat for dinner! Surprise! We didn't even know we were going to have dinner!

Elder Caldwell grew up on a farm were it was part of the routine to do things similar to this. It wasn't something he would care to see every day but it wasn't new to him either. The Sisters, on the other hand, hid in the ger and waited for it to be over!

It really was an interesting process. Once they had the insides cleaned out, they hung him from a post and burned all of the hair off, using propane torches. Before the advent of a the torch, they would put it over an open fire to remove the hair.

We will finish our story in the next installment!