Monthly Archives: April 2011

…Pumpkin Soup

I’ve made this soup several times over the last 10 years, and never had a bad batch. At a recent dinner party, it was so popular, someone told me today that I should give the recipe to the Embassy cafeteria chefs, in the hopes that they’d make something tasty in the soup department for once.

The original recipe came from Epicurious, but it’s evolved.

Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

(Bisque with options for a heartier version)
8 1-cup servings

Saute about 1 c diced onions and 3 cloves garlic, minced, in 1-2 tsp olive oil (as needed) in your soup pot. Cook on low heat until they’re caramelized while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Finish them with 1 tbsp butter and a dash of cayenne.

In a small bowl, measure 2 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp red chili/cayenne powder, 1/4 tsp nutmeg. (These proportions are to taste, some people really like cumin and double the amount, some people dislike heat, and halve the chili powder, this is my favorite blend).

Slowly add 6 cups of chicken stock (or the equivalent in reconstituted bouillon) to the soup pot, wilting any uncaramelized onions. I’ve also made this soup vegetarian with the excellent “Un-Chicken Broth” or veggie bouillon. Add spices from the small bowl.

Whisk in 1 large can of unseasoned pumpkin puree (30 oz). You’ll need to add it about 1 c at a time, depending on the size of your soup pot, because it plops and splashes.

Bring to a boil and cook until the flavors blend. Before serving, add 1 cup of whipping cream (or 1.5 cups of milk, but it won’t be as decadent). I’ve occasionally substituted soy milk for the cream, make sure you add it after everything else has cooked, or it will separate into teeny tiny white dots of soy, rather than blend in smoothly. It’s an aesthetic issue, not a taste one. Serve hot, but try not to boil the cream too much, or it gets clumpy.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and shredded cheddar.

If you want to chew on something in your soup, add a can of niblet corn and a can of black beans while boiling the soup, and garnish with some tortilla chip shreds in addition to the cheese and cilantro.

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…Baksheesh

Islam calls for a high degree of charity from its adherents. The act of giving charity is thought of as a means of earning heavenly merit, and the beggar is honored for his/her providing the opportunity to be charitable.

The magnitude of the poverty in Dhaka is so immense, however, that any chance benevolence is immediately met by a crowd rushing toward you in hopes of also receiving a donation.

The common wisdom is to only offer charity from a soon-to-be-moving car window, opened only very slightly. Locals pass 2-5 taka (about 1 penny), and foreigners usually pass around 10.

I’ve told you something about this before, but the story is somewhat more complicated because I see the same children each day as I walk back and forth to school. I know their names, and we exchange greetings everyday, in a strange mix of English and Bangla. There are three girls, of about 6 and 10 years old. They spend the day picking through the construction and household trash piles searching for metal, plastic and paper scraps that they can sell to the rag man. Many beggar children also belong to begging rings, and see little of the money they cadge from generous people. I doubt that these girls are in that situation though, because of their ’employment’ as trash pickers. I believe they actually live in the tiny slum which sits in the heart of our neighborhood, a strange little wart of poverty surrounded by rents that often exceed $10,000 US per month.

I haven’t yet given them any money, mostly because I see them everyday, and am fearful of setting up a precedent, that they’d begin bringing additional friends to ask for money and I’d no longer be able to walk to work. I think bringing snacks might result in the same problem, but perhaps more kids might only mean everyone gets a smaller share and thus a crowd would not form?

But, I feel completely wretched every time I leave them, knowing that they must be hungry, and desperate, and yet aren’t the worst off of the people I’ve seen. So, do you have any ideas… any solutions to my dilemma that have worked elsewhere?

…Furloughs

EDIT 3 hours later: Yeah! Shutdown averted. Hopefully without also a dramatic pay cut for  my friends and family.

The imminent gov’t shutdown is on everyone’s mind here. While some news organizations have hope that the shutdown will be averted by the deadline, that doesn’t prevent us from an increased level of anxiety and tension.

I think it has affected all of us, even if we think we’re brushing it off. People are slightly edgier, crabbier and quicker to gripe or snark. I’ve heard bitter comments from people who’ve never been bitter before.

And, while even an unpaid vacation might seem like a welcome respite for some of us, you can’t really leave Dhaka during a furlough, because you’ll need to report to work as soon as a budget is approved. You’re also not allowed to leave your duty station, so your involuntary vacation options are limited to those in the immediate vicinity, i.e. all those things in Dhaka we’ve already seen. So, we’re really facing an enforced time of thumb-twiddling.

It’s a big morale issue here, where a lot of the joy at post comes specifically from the job and the co-workers. If there’s no job, what’s the point?

While it’s definitely not-essential in comparison to the mission’s efforts to promote America’s interests and protect Americans abroad, we’ve got a mission party that is scheduled next week in celebration of the local “New Year.” It’s paid for by donations from employees, but the CLO coordinators might not be able to put it on, since it’s their job, and it’s against the law to do your job if you’re furloughed. No Volunteers. (This is actually a messier story, involving local Bangladeshi labor laws too, so I am pretty sure the show will go on, regardless of furlough, but still not a very fun time to celebrate new beginnings when you’re really beginning a tough time).

There’s a couple of informational fairs and outreach efforts that are scheduled for the next few days, which might be unexpectedly canceled. Visas won’t be approved, centers won’t be open.

Those people who will be required to work will not receive their paychecks until after the furlough is over, because there won’t be anyone working to process them, among other reasons.

We’re not going to receive mail. Hopefully the commissary will stay open.

In other words, no one will be able to do their job effectively, even if they are working. And those who aren’t, will still wish they could. Thus, we’re all anxious and crabby, even those who will be working.

But, no one is really sure if all the tension is worth it, what if Congress gets their act together today and passes a budget?

It’s a time of uncertainty.

When California started Furlough Fridays, it was devastating to the local businesses around gov’t centers. Many of them couldn’t survive with a 20% loss of customers and shuttered. A gov’t furlough reaches deep into the American economy, affecting not just the stereotypical image of the pencil-pushing bureaucrat (or the other stereotype of the gov’t beneficiary, the vilified image of the welfare-family), but that pencil-pusher’s lunch vendor, the weekend holiday-maker who wants to visit the National Park, military reservists,  companies that produce goods for gov’t contracts, researchers….. and many others.

So, I guess we here in Dhaka are crabby alongside a lot of Americans. It’s too bad that one of the “solutions” to the budget is a proposed reduction and freeze on foreign service salaries, a minuscule savings compared to the larger picture of the budget, and one that is not matched by equivalent stinginess in other agencies. Even if a budget is passed, if it includes that solution, we’re still in a hole.

And, this is coming from someone who thinks the federal debt is a big problem. I just wish people were brave and smart enough to deal with that problem, rather than nitpick while Rome burns.

And, I’m not usually one for predictions of a doom and gloom future, the uncertainty must be getting to me.

…Nouns and Gerunds

I have been seeing an increasing amount of traffic from (what I can only assume are) students searching for “lists of various nouns” or “various gerunds.”

I chose the blog title WAAAAAYYYYY back in the day, before any of the posts now visible were written, and it referred to the movie “Adventures in Babysitting.” All of my post titles fit into the “Adventures in (something or other)” style, and all are either a noun or a gerund. But, it’s really just a secret nerdy joy that I have, not anything else. I did spend several years as a copy-editor and reviser of other people’s writing.

So, while my blog is certainly not dedicated to grammar, nor is it 100% grammatically correct (I favor a conversational tone over an accurate grammar), I am posting a list of nouns and gerunds today… for the benefit of those few lost souls who stumbled here and found only posts about Dhaka.

Nouns Gerunds
House
Car
Potato
Aloe
Dog
Epilepsy
Hope
Notebook
Airplane
Sitcom
Candle
Student
Dragon
Movie
Dhaka
Government
Machine
Photograph
Integrity
Ficus
Snooker
Snookie
Nookie
California
Parliament
Restaurant
Running
Communicating
Revolving
Hoping
Decaying
Voting
Praying
Paying
Playing
Eating
Dreaming
Typing
Sitting
Working
Listening
Excreting
Smoldering
Beguiling
Spelling
Pontificating
Directing
Loving
Whetting
Wetting
Fretting
Bathing

But… these nouns are both concrete and abstract, and some used to be verbs but we use them as nouns. Yep. Oh well. It’s my list, I am including whatever strikes my fancy.

What is not a gerund? Lots of other things that end in -ing… but are used to describe nouns rather than act as non-finite verbs. Confusingly enough, you can use some of these gerunds as adjectives. If, however, they are followed by a noun, you’re probably not dealing with a gerund, so be wary. Sometimes gerunds are followed by nouns, but they’re never used as describing words. Not a very satisfying explanation, I know, but this is _not_ a grammar blog. Look for a real article if you want a real explanation.

To make this post even more exciting, I’ll update it with your own noun and gerund submissions, just send me your ideas below:

…India

If you’re not my FB friend, you’ve not seen my pics from India, where we were a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Adventure got the better shots, since I had my camera set on Macro… making the distant shots all a bit bleh. But, he’s not home, so you get my shots only. Oh well, ‘Sucks to your assmar!’ (as Ralph so endearingly said to Piggy in the Lord of the Flies).

General consensus on the trip? India is much tidier than Bangladesh, at least in the “tourist trail” areas. They had some really interesting modern and antique architecture in Delhi. There were extensive tourist and regular shopping, as well as tasty restaurants. It was a great little getaway from Dhaka. We even got to try an Indian beef-free McDonald’s.

What we didn’t like? The tourism trend toward these fake factories which are really over-priced shops. Our guides got a commission from these shops, and so wanted to take us to 1-3 every day. When we refused, or didn’t buy anything because we’d already been taken to another rug shop by a different guide, they went into conniptions. It was quite off-putting. But, we recommend India, even if you have to go to a zillion tourist shops.

…Thunder and Lightning

I admit, I’ve been a bit of a blog slug recently. It seems that every time we go on a trip, I come back completely blog demotivated. But, after a long week working at the school, I’ve got a few afternoon hours and an Ingrid Michaelson soundtrack to update you all on the happenings here in Dhaka. (If you click on the link there, you can have the soundtrack too 🙂

The rainy season started early this year in Dhaka, and already 13 people have died in the nearly nightly thunderstorms. Every time we watch a movie, the lightning starts. The lightning brings thunder, and eventually rains reminiscent of Noah’s world-sweeping flood.  I’m starting to think we need to stop watching movies, just to prevent the devastation.

The rain is welcome though. Last year’s monsoons weren’t very impressive, and the farmers struggled to grow their crops due to the lack of water. There is hope that this year will be different. The rain has washed the layer of dust off all the plants, the view from our tree-level apartment is completely different. The mornings are cool and crisp, though that probably won’t last as the humidity from the monsoons continues to increase.

Of course, there’s always the worry that the monsoon will be the opposite of last year–overwhelming. In those conditions, low-lying farms (i.e. most farms in this country that rarely has an elevation above 10 ft) are flooded and people loose their livelihoods, emigrating to seek employment in the cities. Floods also bring cholera epidemics and increased pollution of drinking water sources. They make the roads a madness of sinkholes and crazy driving. (We’ve already seen how the puddles cause driving chaos.)

But, in these early days of the rainy season, I am happy that the rains leave the sky mostly blue in between the showers. Hopefully we won’t get sick of them any time soon. We’ve got 6 months of rain coming.