Archive for February, 2009

Too many cooks…can be fun!

Forget the saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth! Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several cooking experiences, both American and Mongolian foods and had a lot of fun with the cooks.  The first one was at the Titanic Bakery, same name as the boat but pronounced Teetanic.. Don’t know the background.  I visited the bakery some time ago with my supervisor, Sara, when we were visiting Chamber of Commerce members.  The owner, Llagvasuren, is a smart businesswoman and produces bakery goods and milk products.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve been interested in finding a more nutritious snack for children and thought peanut butter products would help.  So I told Llagvasuren about peanut butter cookies and said when I got some peanut butter I would come and show her how to make them.  Unfortunately, peanut butter is only available in Ulaan Baatar and brown sugar is also not readily available.  But, thanks to friends, I was able to assemble the necessary ingredients and recently Sara and I went to the Titanic Bakery, ingredients and recipe in hand.

      Llagnasuren assigned me a “student” to work with in a big room in a new building she had recently finished. All the bakers are women and dressed in red and white uniforms. Everything was very clean and pretty modern with big ovens and big mixers.  They were in the process of making a variety of items—most of them for Tsagaan Car, a major Mongolian holiday coming up at the end of February. 

            Along with the peanut butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and baking powder (all not easily acquired here at the moment), I had brought along some measuring cups and spoons that friends had sent to me.  My student baker brought over a scale so we could weigh the ingredients since my cups and measuring spoons have no equivalent here. So we measured and weighed and mixed and then spooned out the dough onto baking sheets and popped them into the big ovens.  Celsius, not Fahrenheit–so I had to convert the temperatures.  I asked for some wire racks to cool the cookies on but they didn’t have any.  Hard to imagine a bakery without wire racks, but they just don’t use them.  Anyway, the cookies turned out great.  And the bakers all want me to come back soon and teach them some other recipes…  What shall I do next?

        Hot dogs were the subject of another cooking class.  Again, a restaurant that Sara and I had visited earlier served a bread that looked like a smallish hot dog bun.  So I offered to show her how to make American hot dogs.  They do have sausages here that look like hot dogs—but don’t taste very good.  So I got some in a jar in Ulaan Bataar plus some mustard and some pickle relish (sort of) and last week I went over to her restaurant (by myself!) and managed to get through the cooking demonstration on my own—using my slightly improving Mongolian.  Not quite as successful as the cookies—the buns were a little small and a little dry and hard to keep the relish on and the mustard was probably a little hot for them, so I put ketchup on some instead.  Still, it was fun and maybe we can adjust the bun size and texture down the road.  The owner’s name is Amgalen—a sweet woman who has made it clear I should come back anytime and order whatever I wanted with no charge! 

Last weekend, the cooking event was making buuz.  As I said earlier, Tsagaan Car is coming up, a big holiday.  The words mean White Month and it is actually the Lunar New Year.  We’ll be leaving the Year of the Mouse and moving into the Year of the Cow.  Everyone makes a lot of buuz (the little meat dumplings) and everyone dresses up in their dells and visits family and friends.  A number of traditional activities surround the holiday. It’s a 3-day event—will be interesting to see how it works.  One of my Mongol language teachers and her friend came over on Sunday and made buuz with me.  I had to borrow a steamer (designed for buuz) from my neighbor and I’m terrible at what they call “pinching buuz” but we managed to make about 150.  I shared some with my neighbor and then froze some that I will use at Tsagaan Car.  My hospitality will be a little more limited than others—some people make a couple of thousand little buuz. I also won’t be serving vodka.


And finally, one more cooking story to share.  Today I went with a woman from World Vision and one of our PCVs to a new restaurant called the Shalom Bakery.  Turns out that World Vision (a Christian organization helping the poor) helped finance the bakery and it is run by a church.  It’s really a restaurant but with some baked goods too.  We told my friend from World Vision that anyone seeing that name in the States would think the bakery was Jewish.  And then we told her that such a bakery would definitely sell bagels!  So during our lunch we met the woman running the restaurant and said we would show her how to make bagels (recipe is in our Peace Corps Cookbook).  We can probably come up with a cream cheese substitute using yogurt cheese which I can make.  But I think it is going to be tough to put our hands on the lox!  I think it would be great if the Christian Shalom Bakery could serve bagels…a good ecumenical activity. (Don’t forget, just click on a photo to see it bigger.)  Not sure why one is bigger than the others…one more thing to learn about blogging…

This is Mongolia’s version of Julia Child signing off….


Making hot dogs at

Making hot dogs at




February 15, 2009 at 3:01 am Leave a comment

Out of the woods….almost

In a place where it gets very cold for a very long time, wood is very important—if that’s how you’re heating your home.  Hope you won’t be bored by my obsession with it!  My little wood stove is metal and about 18 inches by 27 inches.  It’s supposed to heat 3 rooms with 8 foot ceilings and there’s no insulation in this wooden house. When my Peace Corps regional manager came to visit in mid-October, she was concerned about my house being warm enough in the winter.  Our host country agencies that we work for are supposed to make sure our homes are winterized by October 15, but only some things had been done to mine.  She talked to them and finally, by mid-December, most of the items were completed.  One large room now has a door sealing it off from the other 2 rooms and I have quilted material at 2 of the windows and some carpet on part of the floor.  I live mostly in one room about 6 ½ by 23 feet—kitchen, bedroom, dining, living room all in one.

            I received my first load of wood in October and was promised a second load within the week but it didn’t show up. I had met the supplier at my office.  My supervisor had arranged for the wood to be delivered by a Mongolian I call David.  He came to some of my English classes last fall.  He is a wood boss—as best I can understand that means he runs a woodcutting operation that logs wood in the forests north of here, trucks it to Muron, sells it to people and delivers it to their homes. 

            I wasn’t too concerned when the second load didn’t show up.  The first load had been delivered split into large pieces but it still needed to be split further for firewood.  In the fall, one of my counterparts at the Chamber of Commerce came with a friend of hers and split a lot that we put in my woodshed.  A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer split some for me at one point and I tried my hand too—but Bold’s axe was very heavy and I wasn’t very good at it.  Bold split some for me several times and, at one point, began starting a fire for me in the afternoon before I came home and filling my woodbox beside my stove.  I was in heaven.  Coming home to a warm house was pure joy.  But it only lasted about 4 days–why he stopped, I’m not sure.  So each morning and each evening I start from scratch, that is from a temperature point of view.  The most challenging times are when the indoor temperature is in the teens or lower and all your water is frozen when you get up or come home from the office.  As you may know, temps here can get to 40 below.  So far, this year, it’s stayed a bit shy of that.   But, you know, it’s good for me to experience this and you quickly learn to jump out of bed, pull on some warm clothes and get right to work starting the fire.  By now, I can get it going within a few minutes.

            Meanwhile, my friend David, the wood man, had stopped by the office last fall to apologize for the late delivery.  He came in—I was by myself—borrowed my Mongolian English dictionary, looked up a word, and blurted out “I am a liar!” and repeated it several times vociferously.  What he meant was that he was apologizing for not delivering the wood when he said he would.  Clearly he intended to keep his word (Peace Corps had already paid for both loads of wood), but it would be delayed not once but twice.  Finally on January 25 the second load arrived and he stopped in the office to tell me it was being delivered that day.  Walking home that night around 7:30, I could hear the power saw whining.  When I got inside the house and looked out the back window, there was a five person crew with two power saws going, sawing up a bunch of big logs into stove length pieces.  A woman crew chief said they would be back the next day to split it.  So when I got home on Tuesday, the wood had been split into big chunks and neatly stacked in a round pile (see pics in blog).  But it wasn’t yet firewood.  Monday night I had stopped into Bold and Tsermaa’s home and Bold presented me with a small axe.   I wasn’t quite sure why he was giving it to me now, but soon gathered it was so I could now chop my own wood more easily. 

            So on Saturday I went out in the morning to try it and I did pretty well!  Bold of course is a whiz, as are all Mongolians.  They use a big chopping block, hold a piece of wood on it and split it into several pieces with the other hand.  I can hardly bear to watch but their aim is impeccable.  I balance the wood on the chopping block and use both hands.  It’s slower but effective.  I also wear heavy hiking boots in case of an errant aim. The pieces are about 12-15 inches long.

            And as I described in my last blog, a young boy helped me chop it on Satruday.  I figure it takes about 45-60 pieces a day to heat my home for the evening and then for the next morning.  So that will give me plenty of exercise—which I enjoy.  Although, I must say, I feel guilty using even that much fuel.  For once, I can actually see the physical amount of energy in the form of wood that I consume each day.  It seems like a lot of wood to heat my little house though I remind myself that I also use that stove for cooking and for my water heater so it serves several purposes. 

            But then compare that carbon footprint to my home in America.  I think if we could actually see in some highly visible form the amount of energy we consume each day we might be more conservative in our use of it.  I can see the pollution from the wood stoves and from coal being burned in some power plants here to heat apartments and commercial buildings, small as they are.  Once winter arrived, there is always a pall over the town, worse on colder days and you can smell it too.  The weather report on the web I notice just says “smoke” instead of sunny or cloudy. 

            Back in America, we basically hide from view our energy consumption since it’s in the form of gas, oil, or electricity.  We just pay the bills.  If it were more visible like wood or more smelly like coal, maybe it would make us a little more conscious of our environment and what we are doing to it.  Maybe we’d make a greater effort to turn down the heat, walk instead of drive everywhere and, most important, raise our voices higher to support research on alternative energy sources, tougher fuel standards.  At least, we finally have a President who is raising his voice on these issues.  I hope we all are listening and taking action in whatever ways we can.

            And there’s another issue here.  Mongolia is being deforested although there are efforts to stop it and reverse the trend.  The mountains I see around Muron have no trees and there are few in the town itself.  The government policy as I understand it is to replant the trees when they are cut but I think it is difficult to enforce.  I have met a man from the Philippines who is here with an the UN’s FAO on a forestry project trying to work with Mongolians to encourage better forest management.  According to a little book I have about Mongolian traditions, the Mongolians revere trees and do not cut them down without a reason.  But the pressures of the need for fuel and building materials make it difficult to resist today.

            Finally, the word “Almost” in the title of this blog refers to the winding down of winter—maybe.  They say January is the coldest month in Mongolia and Mongolian friends tell me it has been a warm winter (you could have fooled me).  I see on the web that the temps here may actually get into the 20s F. in the next few days—oh my gosh!  I’ll believe it when I feel it!

p.s. the wolf in the last blog is not alive. I’m told the Mongolians think there are parts of the wolf which you should eat to benefit the lungs.  The wolf plays an important part in Mongolian history.  And the pelt would be used too.  And again, click on the photo to see a larger version.


February 4, 2009 at 2:02 am Leave a comment


“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”   That’s a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, one I’ve always loved.  Here in Mongolia, it certainly brings results.  I was walking to the zaakh (open market) today and began to think about my Mongolian friends. Maybe not friends in the bosom buddy kind of way, but friends as in people I have come to know and enjoy in many different ways.  As I walked along, I started mentally enumerating “friends” I have had encounters with over the past week.  Let me introduce them to you.

·      I saw David on Monday.  David came to some of my English classes last fall and I gave him the English name as I did to many others.  Pronouncing Mongolian is hard!  He runs a logging operation that supplies wood for Muron including me..  He always has a big smile, a good sense of humor, and likes to use his English with me.  He’s been very good to me (more in a blog post about wood).

·      On Monday I also went to the post office to pick up a package from the Post Office ladies.  There are 4 or 5 of them and they have become very friendly.  Now they even call me on the phone when a package comes in for “Judy.” A couple of weeks ago I gave them some chocolate chip cookies I’d made.  The word is that I’ll be giving them English lessons in the not too distant future.


·      Tuesday I went to the bank and there weren’t any withdrawal slips.  But a friend who was in my Obama victory English class last fall and works at the bank spotted me and came over and made sure I was taken care of by the teller.  Friends are kind.


·      Wednesday, I went to a little restaurant for lunch where the single waitress has talked to me before with a little English and wants to learn more.  It was late and no one else there so she sat down at my table and we had a little conversation.  I had ordered 2 khosher and milk tea and she suggested a hot apple drink instead—it was hot apple juice with bits of apple and whole little dried apricots in it.  Try it, you’ll like it.


·      Thursday my friend the jejuur began to learn English.  A jejuur is a caretaker of sorts. In this case, he sits at a desk where you enter our building and monitors who comes and goes and answers questions.  He always has a big smile for me and I’m trying to teach him some new English words every day.


·      My friend who works at the TV station next door got back from a trip to UB this week.  She works very hard on learning English and we often have lunch together.  Periodically, she opens the door to our office and calls in, “Judy, I love you!” 

·      Friday morning, I discovered a new friend—I think.  From time to time, a little man comes into the office and doesn’t seem to do much, just stands around.  I think he is a woodcarver who did some work for the Chamber of Commerce at one point.  I think he knows that I am usually the first one to arrive at the office.  He came in and stood there and I tried to explain that no one had yet arrived but he didn’t leave.  Finally, he pulled out a couple of photos of some horses and riders and showed them to me.  I commented on them as best I could—he said his brother was on one and he owned one of the horses.  I tried to tell him I liked to ride horses.  That’s about all we did and soon he left.  I did take his picture—it’s posted in this blog.  What to make of this encounter?  I’m not sure, but I think it’s just another way to communicate.

·      I met Esse on Friday too.  I was using the internet and the connection is in a little office just off the main lobby in the government building where I work.  It is separated from the lobby by a wall that is glass from the ceiling halfway to the floor so people can see in easily.  He came in and asked if I spoke English.  He spoke English quite well and told me he was a guide. And he is also interested in preserving the land here.  I enjoyed talking with him and invited him to two meetings this coming week.  One is about my efforts to start an Ecology Club (more later) and one is about “Muron Days”, sort of like Marblehead’s local Arts Festival, to encourage people to stay longer in Muron, not just use it as a quick stop off on their way to Lake Khuvsgol.   I think he will be a valuable contributor to both these efforts.

·      Friday afternoon, my friend Angela came to the office to meet me after work.  She was my English student last fall when I first came to Muron and probably is my best friend though I don’t see her often now.  She was very shy when I first met her but grew in confidence during the 5 weeks of daily classes and worked very hard on her English. Early on she learned the words “rude” and “polite.”  She loved to hold the door for me and say “polite” as I went through. She tells me she is now living with her boyfriend and his parents (quite common in Mongolia) and may get married next year.

·      At the zaak today, I stopped by my favorite place to get fruit.  A young woman there always waits on me and is very shy but I think likes to see the “American” come in. Some weeks ago she began giving me an extra item for free or not charging me for something I’d bought. It might be some apples or a kiwi (yes, Mongols like kiwis).  In some ways, I think this is also another way of communicating.  Last week, I gave her some peanut butter cookies I’d made.

·      Finally, today I was chopping some wood (more to come about that in the next blog) in our haasha and a young boy came over and stood watching me.  I’d seen him last summer helping Bold with various chores around the hashaa.  He’s about 12, not very big, but has a beautiful smile.  After watching a few minutes, he insisted on taking the axe and chopping a pile of wood himself.  Then together we carried it into my woodshed.  I gave him some tea and made a peanut butter sandwich for him—not sure if he’d ever had peanut butter.  I asked him if he liked it or didn’t like it.  He said he liked it.  Thanks to the friends who sent peanut butter and various other items that I try to share with all my Mongolian friends.

So I urge you all—expand your circle of friends—make a new one every day!

As usual, double click on photo to see each one bigger.

February 1, 2009 at 5:56 am Leave a comment

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