Breaking Bad in Kathmandu

Sorry, the title was suppose to be “Baking Bread in Kathmandu,” but the typo is a lot more catchy.

Each Monday, my boss asks “Did you have a good weekend? What did you do?” Probably because we both came from jobs that occupied our weekend space, the novelty of weekends is still new to us.

My response is usually, “Went to the market, and baked bread.”

That leaves room for lots of other activities such as exploring Kathmandu, or binge watching “A Handmaid’s Tale”.

Bread making is not labor intensive. It does not require a bread machine, lots of kneading, or lots of time. From start to finish it only takes about 14 hours! Most of the time however is waiting around for the little sourdough beasties to do their job.

I’ve written before about making Sourdough bread in California. This is a little bit better guide from Kathmandu.

I use a sourdough starter that originally came from Breadtopia via Amazon.com. For a couple of years now it has been cultivated here, so it may have acquired some characteristics of the locale.

I store the starter in the fridge in a closed Rubbermaid container. Glass in not a good idea if you have the container sealed as it could crack the glass container. The microbes in the dough thrive in the cold. Here’s what it looks like when I open the container:

Hot mess of primordial bread gooeyness

After stirring the starter it looks more harmless:

Note the viscosity. Not that it is important… just note it.

My recipe calls for a quarter cup of starter. It is not a chemistry class, to paraphrase Jack Sparrow, a recipe is a “guideline, not a rule.”

I pour the starter into one and a half cups of water.

Today I am making two loaves, so I repeated the process for each cup of water and then stirred the water/sourdough mixture.

Now it is time to feed the starter. For each loaf I am making, I add back to the starter one fourth cup of water and one third cup of flour.

Then mix and seal it back up and store it in the fridge.

Now it is time to mix the bread ingredients.

3 cups of flour.

One half cup of whole wheat flour.

One and a half teaspoons of salt:

One third cup of cracked wheat (bulgar is a-ok):

Then I whisked it all together:

Then I added the starter-water mix to the dry ingredients:

I spooned it together and then got my hands dirty making sure it is all mixed together.

 

If I have some dry ingredients not joining the rest of the mess, I might add a few drops of water, which I did it this case:

 

Without too much effort it will look like this:

 

Then it time to throw them into the garbage (just kidding).

I put the bowls into garbage bags and stored them overnight.

The next morning the dough has doubled in size (It’s a live!) and I spread it out on a floured board:

 

I then folded the dough and let it rest (covered) for 15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, I got ready the “proofing” basket. This is where it will do a final rise before baking. I used a colander. I sprayed it with vegetable oil and added sesame seeds to it:

I rolled up the bread after it was done resting. I then added more sesame seeds to the outside of the dough:

Then I added it to the proofing basket:

Then covered:

I set a timer for 90 minutes and played a computer game with my brother.

After 90 minutes, I started up the oven and put in our Dutch oven. There is no temperature gauge on the oven, but if it went to 10, I would set it to eleven. It should be hot.

I set the timer for another 30 minutes.

At the end of that time, I dumped (literally) the dough into the Dutch oven. Covered the pot and put it back into the oven. The heat of the oven caused the dough to rise again.

After 30 minutes, it is time to remove the lid and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes, it was time to dump the bread onto the cooling rack:

Time to Eat!

Recipe:

1/4 cup of sourdough starter added to 1 and half cups of water
3 cups of unbleached bread flour
half a cup of whole wheat bread flour.
a third cup of cracked wheat
1 and half teaspoons of salt
Mix the water and starter together.
Then mix the dry ingredients
Then mix the wet and dry ingredients together. The mixture should be damp. Add water or flour as needed.

Rampaging Gang Invades Our Home in Kathmandu

A loud crash on the patio announced their arrival.

 

We ran to the windows and looked out. We were surrounded! There were at least 8 of them. But not to worry, this is a daily happening for us. The “gang” is a large family of Rhesus Macaque, the temple monkeys of Nepal (and India).

Can you spot the youngster eating the trumpet flowers?
A large adult is watching the young one
Snapdragons are yummy too

Before we moved to Kathmandu I had dreams of growing fruit trees much like Southern California. The climate is very similar. It seems that anything you thrown into the soil here will sprout. But the first time I saw the monkeys demolish our papaya tree I realized dreams of fruit trees at our Kathmandu home would be fool’s errand.

Not every home in Kathmandu is like this, but we seem to be on daily migration route of this particular troop of monkeys. Some say they are part of this group: Gangs of Swayambhu

Years ago when they attacked the papaya tree, I went outside banging a pot and yelling at them. The largest one only paused a moment and barred his teeth at me. At that moment I did not think I was such a great ape and retreated inside.

You can see what effect my growl had on the monkeys who were ripping the branches off our pine tree yesterday.

Stand Up to the Bully

Stand Up to the Bully

Stand up for your wife, your mother, and your daughter against the threats to their body, minds, and their spirits. Contribute to causes with time and money that support their rights. March with them no matter your gender, for their rights are your own.

Stand up for the first amendment of the constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Read. Be literate about the facts. Not only learn more about current issues, but learn about the constitution and its amendments. Support the press and ask more of the press. Donate to public radio.

Stand up against ignorance. Against those who would abandon our public schools. Against those who failed science and can not accept its conclusions. Demand your supermarkets remove tabloids from the checkout stands. Contribute and volunteer to Greenpeace or the Sierra Club.

Stand up to the bigots. Do not let their lies become the truth in any land. Challenge them.

Two children, two faiths, one message – from CNN

Stand up for anyone not like you. If you get to know them, you will find you have a lot in common. Trust me, somewhere in the world, you are the odd person. Diversity is a strength and that is why America is great.

Stand up for those who chose a life of public service and now face disrespect, including the one hundred and seventeen stars on the memorial wall in Langley, over a thousand dissenting members of the Department of State, and one brave woman lawyer from Georgia.

Stand up and use your wallet to support companies sympathetic to your views, and boycott those that don’t.

Stand up to the public servants you elected. They work for you. Call them, do not email them. Afraid of a long distance call? Get a gmail account and setup a hangout, or get a free Skype account. You can make free calls from anywhere in the world to a US number.

  • Senators can be found here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/senators_cfm.cfm
  • House members can be found here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Stand up and run. Run for a local office, this is where all politics starts. Run for the school board, the local commissions, and the public committees.

Do not sit and fret.

Stand up and make a difference.

Trump School

I was recently at a pep rally at a school in Nepal named for the 16th President of the United States. As a good luck charm, Lincoln’s head is rubbed by each member of the team. It seems to work as the school has a lot of winning teams. But the head rubbing got me thinking, “Will there be a Trump School?”

The famous Republican above, has lent his name to at least 3 schools for expats around the world, and of course many in the USA. Just in Illinois 89 public schools are named for Lincoln.

Already there are schools named for President Obama in at least 6 states in the US.
The name Trump University has already been sullied. No turning the clock back on that one… it has been settled.

So “Will there be another Trump named school?” Without a doubt the answer is “Yes!” Most likely in some other country than the US, for example, Russia. Leaving out the obvious, what other schools might adopt the 45th president’s name?

Here are three schools that could adopt the Trump label tomorrow:
I put forward Trabajo Ya as a clear contender. Not familiar with the school? Currently not a catchy name, but what if it was called the School of Trump Tricks. It is a trade school in Spain. Trabajo Ya means “Work Now,” and reflects Trump’s values of women and employment. Look it up.
Then there is the legendary School of the Seven Bells in the Andes, where thieves and pickpockets learn their trade. Does it not already feel like some of the administration are alums of this school? Renaming the school to the Trump School of the Seven Hells would be an apt testimonial to the importance of the school in shaping the new American carnage.
Even with the recent closing of the Ringling Brothers, The Clown School is thriving. There is something inherently creepy and scary about clowns: No matter what they do, they sincerely expect you to enjoy it. Let’s hear it for TCS, the Trump Clown School!

Halloween Fun and a new Camera

While in Vietnam two weeks ago, I was introduced to a new camera, the Ricoh Theta S. It has a lens on each side and takes 360 degree photos and movies.

The camera is small and extremely light weight. Fits easily into a pocket, or with a small tripod into a purse or backpack.

The camera take selfies to a whole new level. For example, tonight’s Halloween visitors (try rotating the image with your mouse down):

Happy Halloween! From Kathmandu

 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

 

 

Dependencies

A short time ago we were looking at our wealth. The value of our houses minus the debt, our stock portfolio after the slide, and our cash on hand. We looked at them as if they really mattered. However a new reality is settling into our lives in Nepal.

Today we looked at the cupboard to see how much food we have, we wondered how much cooking gas we have, we counted the drinking water bottles, and we checked the level of our water cistern.

Nepal is a land-locked country. The main supply arteries are through India, and at this point in time, India is choking these routes in a demonstration of its displeasure with the recently adopted constitution of Nepal.

Vehicles lined up for fuel

Whether the grievance is justified or not, the results are clear. Nepal, a country that just 5 months ago had two devastating earthquakes, does not have reserves of food and fuel, and India is withholding both.

What happens when there is no fuel? Think about it. How does the food get from farm to market without fuel? How do those bottles of clean water reach your house without fuel? How do you cook the food if you have a gas stove? How do the people who work for you or with you get to work? How do the jets re-fuel for their next journey? Are they carrying aid or more fuel for the journey home?

Thamel – Unusually Quiet

Even without this crisis, our footsteps ring hollow as we walk the usual tourist spots and markets, but we tell ourselves, “It’s early. In October business will pick up.” But how will the travelers come when the domestic airlines are unsure of their fuel supplies… or the reverse, would you like to be stuck in some far off region of Nepal because the airlines/buses have stopped running?

Nepal has been dealt some severe blows lately, but this one is man-made, and it comes at a time Nepalis should be rejoicing a step forward after a decade of no government. Instead, there is a little fear mixed with anger and Nepali grit. The people here are impressive, but hurting.

So whether you are in Abu Dhabi, Washington, or Los Angeles, think about Nepal. Appreciate all the things that go behind the scenes to make your glass of water, your morning shower, and the good food you eat possible. We do, and will when we return to our home in California.

S’mores

Yesterday we went shopping for groceries, including a trip to the commissary. As we were checking out, I saw a package of marshmallows above the chocolate section. I fought my primal urges (surely there were S’mores cooking at the caves of our ancestors), and did not buy that the tasty combo. Then REI sends me an email containing the photo below. Is there some cosmic message I missing? Has Google Search engines become so strong that even my looking at something at a grocery store now steers product placement to my inbox.  Perhaps my marathon watching of Mr. Robot is effecting my observations of the universe. I will try to stay strong, and deny the S’more ….

and please take my paranoia in jest. That said, a chili-chocolate S’more sounds crazy good, but REI, my membership is part of a healthy-life choice, help me out.

Visiting Bangkok

I’m going to risk sounding like a jaded traveler, but here goes…. I really can’t remember how many times I’ve been to Bangkok in the last 32 years, though the first time was December, 1983. The most recent, was yesterday.

Bangkok is where we went for teacher conferences when working in Kuala Lumpur, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. Bangkok is where my son and I had “that talk” about the birds and bees. It is where Angus and I had suits made, strutting around like the peacocks we were. It is the city I was sure would die under it’s weight of gridlock and pollution and be abandoned as it sank into mud below the river. It was city where my wife caught Typhus. It is where I first learned my father was dying. So I carried a lot of baggage on this journey.

Let me first start by saying that the Bangkok of today is amazing. I was not expecting to be impressed, but I was. In 1983, we traveled by tuk tuk, from one neighborhood to another, choking on car exhaust as we crawled along. You can still get stuck in traffic as you can see in my photo above, but some of those vehicles are Priuses, and the taxis and buses are running on natural gas. That is just another day on the road for this Southern California native. There is no longer that gray cloud that used to hang over the roads of Bangkok (and alas still hangs over the roads of Kathmandu). Drivers can also take one of the many elevated toll roads that now criss-cross the city.

Boat stop at the Jim Thompson House

Linda and I did not need a taxi except for the trip to and from the airport. The rest of the time we used either the elevated “SkyRail” metro system, or the Khlong Boats (canal boats).

As it turned out, many of our visits were close to the boat line. There may be times when the canal smells ripe, but not when we were there.

The ticket takers move up and down the sides of boat collecting fares.

The boats are not for the faint hearted. You step from the dock to the boat, without the benefit of steps, as the boat rocks back and forth against the tires protecting the dock. Ticket collecting is also a challenge. There are no aisles joining the rows. The ticket collector moves down the sides of the boat:

There are also splash guards that the passengers control with rings that will move the blue tarp up and down the side of the boat. The ticket takers have to also watch out for bridges. Notice in this next video as the roof of the boat is lowered:

We used the boats to visit the Jim Thompson House. Thompson was a former OSS officer in World War II who made a lot of money developing the Thai silk industry. He mysteriously disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. The house is actually a collection of traditional Thai houses that Thompson joined together. No photos allowed of the inside, but I could enjoy photographing the orchids in the garden:

20 March 2000

We traveled on boat to Sukhumvit Soi 15, and walked to Cabbages and Condoms. It is a restaurant we went to years ago with Andy’s second grade teacher and other friends.

At the time I had a lot of explaining to do with my son regarding the importance of condoms. It is more than just a name at the restaurant, it is a mission. The mission, as the name implies is family planning. The food is delicious. Their sense of humor is infectious.

Will you ever look at Santa’s beard the same way?

One of journeys on the SkyRail took us to the Weekend Market. But as we were getting off the train we stumbled upon the opening ceremonies of the Muaythai University World Cup. MuayThai, “The art of eight limbs” because just about any pointy part of your body can be used, also known as … Thai Boxing! It was held outdoors beside the National Stadium’s rail stop. We saw the prayers, warm-up, and opening round between Algeria and Iran (the music plays during the round). We know absolutely nothing about the sport, so please disregard our comments!

We continued to the Bangkok Weekend Market. It is huge! On a typical weekend 200,000 shopper wander the cramped aisles separating 8000 shops on 30+ acres. As horrible as that sounds, it was still fun! I’m not sure how many bargains were to be had, but it was fun for the photographer.
Our friends Susan and John recently moved to Bangkok. At dinner I asked Susan why they chose to live in Bangkok, when they could live anywhere in the world. Her answer: A great public transit system and a surprise each time she leaves her front door. I’ll have to say the same for this visit. It is a place memories are made and I look forward to our next journey to Bangkok.

This was not our hotel in Bangkok, …

Not our hotel’s lobby

This was not our hotel in Bangkok, we were staying in the nearby Novotel. The picture above though shows a very pleasant lobby with my favorite coffee shop, a ubiquitous sight throughout Bangkok.

One of our objectives on this trip was to get thorough physicals. Several of our friends had done that in Bangkok, and I remembered seeing “medical vacations” featured on the American tv news program “The Today Show”. The agent for our insurance provider suggested Bumrungrad International Medical Center. We had no idea what to expect. The name “Bum Run,” along with my unfortunate pronunciation of the neighborhood, “Ploen Chit,” lead to some of my typical poor attempts at humor.

We went into the medical center at 8AM and by 11:30 we were having lunch near by. We went to Bumrungrad for the Executive package with 28 various tests, including a cardio stress test for me.

It was quiet a process that ended as it began with a visit to the doctor’s office where the doctor reviews the results of the tests with you. It was a long session in which I kept expecting the other shoe to drop, however, the results for both our doctor visits were summed up in the picture below:

This is not our hotel’s lobby, but it is an example of the type of building going on here. We have been visiting Bangkok since 1983, as a couple, then with our kids, for pleasure, for business, and now back as a couple.

Not our hotel’s lobby

It has changed a lot over the years. Large condominium/apartment towers have sprung up round the city, dwarfing the classical single family homes. The vehicle traffic, that use to be dominated by the three wheeled tuk tuk and buses, now compete with new SUVs and luxury sedans. This place seems to be thriving.

So if is not our hotel’s lobby, what is it? It’s the Bumrungrad International Medical Center!

You never forget your first…

…job hunt

Recently the New York Times featured an article in the Education section called “Teachers Vie for Overseas Postings,” which did a fairly good job of describing the job hunt for international educators. I have been working in schools overseas since 1981, and like in the article, it started at a fair.

I was in my third year of working as a teacher in the Jurupa Unified School District in Southern California. Three years, and three different jobs: a combined class of grades 2 and 3, then a grade six in another elementary school, and in my third year I was a high school biology teacher. In the fall of that third year I saw a small ad exclaiming “Teach Overseas.” It was from International Schools Services, or ISS. The application process to join their job placement service was extensive, and included an interview in Los Angeles with one of their representatives. Once that was done, I started receiving thick packets in the mail with job opportunities around the world. Only then did I appreciate a new world was opening up before me. I could be working in Europe, Asia, or Africa next year. It was a very exciting time.

ISS had a job fair in New York. I made arrangements for the trip. A very expensive trip! A couple of schools, including one in Cairo, had setup interviews with me ahead of time.

However just ten days before the fair, the district’s wandering elementary art teacher, Gary, came into my high school classroom and said he heard I was looking overseas. He told me about a small job fair he was attending that Saturday at UCLA. I cancelled my trip to the ISS fair, phoned Egypt and made an appointment to meet the head of the Cairo school at Stanford on Sunday.

ISS recruiting fair in San Francisco
 – Malcolm Stitt in the NYTimes

Tables were crammed together in a lobby of one of UCLA’s large lecture halls. Each head of school sat behind the table and behind them on butcher paper was a list of the jobs they had available. I got in line for Frankfurt, then London, and got interviews with both. But each line was long and as they made interview appointments, the list of openings was thinning out. My third line was Kuala Lumpur. After 30 minutes of waiting in the line, the head of the school stood up and said “I don’t want to interview anyone else unless you can teach physics!” “I can teach Physics,” I replied, handed him my resume and had my third interview setup.

The interviews were in hotel rooms in a building adjacent to the university. London had pulled the room’s desk around and he sat behind it. Frankfurt sat on his bed, shoes off, legs stretched out toward the interviewee. Both went well, but I was hesitant about my third and final interview, Kuala Lumpur. As I entered the room he was sitting across from me at a low coffee table, “Aren’t you kinda of weak in Physics” he challenged. “Yes, but I’m a great second grade teacher”. He laughed.

At the end of the day I went home buoyed by an overabundance of delusional self-confidence that I would get at least one job offer. That night I had dinner with my parents told them about the events of the day. Then I remembered “Oh no, I have an appointment tomorrow morning at 9 am at Stanford University!” I was tempted to blow it off, feeling confident about my job prospects, but in the end I did the right thing. I had made a commitment  and I needed to follow through with it. My mom volunteered to ride with me (she could not drive my stick-shift) on the 400 miles north. We drove through the night and stopped at the Denny’s in Palo Alto around 8am. I changed into my suit and entered Stanford’s career placement office at 9 am. “I’m here to see Dr. Brandt,” I say to the receptionist. “Oh, Dr. Brandt cancelled his trip to Standford.” “Are you kidding me!” Grrr. No time for a rest or a gripe, Mom and I hopped back into the car and drove back down to Riverside – the next day was a work day.

One of my first trips as an overseas teacher – Cairo!
Never did run into Dr. Brandt.

In the end, I got that wonderful phone call from Frankfurt and immediately agreed to a contract.

A few weeks later I got another call from the guy who thought he was going to interview a physics candidate at UCLA. It turned out, he really did need a second grade teacher!