Sunday, December 29, 2013

Some Tips for Keeping Warm this Winter!

As 95% of my close friends flee home for the holidays, I have begun to notice the cold a little more here in Armenia because I am sentimental apparently. The weather itself is not much different than in Canada, and considering the horrible-sounding ice-storm that hit Toronto, it seems that Armenia isn't a bad place to be right now.

However, that doesn't stop my fingers and toes from freezing when I need to walk anywhere for more than 5 minutes, so I became inspired to share a tip for those trying to stay warmer this winter:

Sesame oil. BAM. Mind blown, I know.

For most moisturizing purposes, I tend to use either coconut oil or shea butter. They work great, are natural options, and I like their scents. However, coconut oil, according to Ayurveda, is considered to be a "cooling" oil, which makes it ideal for summer or warmer weather in general. Sesame oil, on the flipside, is considered to be a "warming" oil.

I am by no means an expert in Ayurvedic medicine, but I did study it in nutrition school as a result of the impact it has had on medicine (usually in terms of preventative or holistic), and how although it has been around in India (where it originated) and South Asia for at least 5000 years, different schools of thought are finally finding it to be more and more relevant and are incorporating it into their own teachings. It can be defined generally as a practical science of life that focuses on every aspect, element, and facet of life in order to promote healing on deeper levels and believes in treating every person as an individual with a unique constitution.

When I was in nutrition school, I went full-on "in" and tried about 95% of the recommendations within the different courses on myself (out of excitement usually). Steeped ginger and lemon tea is a super-nutritious way to start your morning, you say? Did it for a year and felt great. Non-rancid flax seed oil is essential for neuron protection, cell formation and can help limit sugar cravings? Bought and returned 6 flax seed oil bottles until I found a non-rancid one to take 1-2 TBSPs every day. Felt amazing and my skin glowed like a pregnant lady. I became pretty hardcore about everything and as a result was able to see what worked for me specifically, since one of the main ideas behind holistic nutrition is to treat each person as an individual.

The course on Ayurvedic medicine was full of suggestions, with all foods (including spices, herbs, etc.) being categorized in terms of whether they had a net cooling or warming effect. For example, most people would think that spicy foods/herbs would have a warming effect, but in Ayurvedic medicine, they are considered to be cooling since their net effect causes us to perspire and therefore "cool off". I tried countless ideas from this course (except any suggestions about yoga of course) and saw merit in each one, and continue many until this day and recommend them constantly within protocols.

Two things I try to do as often as possible (I have been slacking a bit lately) are skin brushing to improve circulation and remove dead skin (glowing pregnant skin, baby!) and oil massages, or Abhyanga massages (had to re-check the spelling in our textbook for that one!).

During the summer I would use coconut oil for this, but during the winter raw sesame oil is KEY!

How to do the massage (long & short options): in the morning, pour a little sesame oil into a bowl (the amount depends on whether you want to do full-body or not) and put it on top of hot water in a pot/bigger bowl to warm it up but not cook it. While it warms up you can begin dry skin brushing (optional, but for the full-body oil massage they really do go hand in hand) starting from your feet all the way up to your neck in upward motions, with circular ones for your stomach. If you have never tried dry skin brushing, the first few times can feel a little intense, but you will get used to it. Best to do it in your shower or tub as skin flakes may come snowing down. It will energize you, promote lymphatic drainage of toxins, improve circulation/blood flow, remove any build up of dead skin cells, and in the case of women and some men, will reduce cellulite as it is a "deep" brushing that works with the subcutaneous layer of skin!
This is the kind of loofah I use for skin brushing
Once you are finished, you can begin the oil massage. Rub the oil onto your skin, from toe to head. Again, best to do this in the shower or tub as some oil may trickle down Adam Smith style. On limbs, long strokes work well, and make sure to really work the oil into the skin. On joints and your torso, circular motions work best. Once you have covered your body, move on to your face (including ears), again with circular motions. I have also done scalp and it tends to be included in the full-body massage. Try to keep the oil on your body for at least 20 minutes - you can do stretches or yoga dance steps to pass the time, and then just hop into the shower. The residue/film of the oil will leave you moisturized, and in the case of sesame oil, will still have its warming effect as it has been absorbed by the top layers of the skin. Skin-brushing combined with the Abhyanga massage will improve your circulation, stimulate your lymph nodes, and rejuvenate your skin. You will feel like you have an aura of sunshine around your entire body!

Now, for people who are not interested in doing this full-body massage, you can still use sesame oil to stay warm in a quicker way - simply use it as a face wash or face/body moisturizer. As long as it is not toasted sesame oil but raw, there is no scent so you will not end up smelling like a stir-fry. My fingers and feet are really the only parts of my body, besides my nose, that become extremely cold, so I focus on using it on those areas - either before I leave the house or when I am home as a moisturizer and for the warming effect. You can use an old pair of socks to wear over your feet to keep in the oil and so that you do not grease-up your floors or slippers. For my face, I tend to rub the warmed oil all over, leave it in for a bit, and then rinse it off and lightly towel dry so that it does the job but does not leave my face oily.

I have put in my order to RYB for some raw sesame oil and am super excited to finally remember what having toes feels like!

Since we are on the Ayurveda-train, here are some edible options for warming herbs/spices:

-Ginger
-Cloves
-Cardamom
-Cinnamon
-Cumin
-Turmeric

Try to incorporate as many of these in your dishes and/or teas for some internal warming effects as well! Greet winter with an aura of sunshine and lollipops, and radiant skin! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Vegan Baking Substitutions via VEGA!

Baking time is upon us. I am no master baker by any means, but when I do bake, egg-substitutions ideas have always been very helpful for me!

Many websites and cook-books usually recommend using flax powder, but as you may have figured out from my many mentions of flax, it is never a good idea to heat EFAs. Check out some of the alternative suggestions below via Vega, which include milk and butter substitution ideas as well!

http://myvega.com/vega-life/vega-blog/vegan-baking-cheat-sheet/

Happy baking! :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Basooc Dolma Recipe Featured on The Armenian Kitchen!

Remember my first article for The Armenian Weekly on veganism in Armenia? Well, The Armenian Kitchen does, and decided to feature basooc dolma (aka the best vegan dish ever) as their recipe and made a wonderful post about it with some information by yours truly! Check it out here!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Simple Way to Start Your Day!

There is a reason the first meal of your day is called "breakfast": you are literally breaking the fast of which you consensually agreed upon the moment you fell asleep. Give or take a few (or many) hours, you have woken up from a full night's sleep. The first thing you put into your mouth, therefore, is more important than you might think!

We are meant to ease into the day, and ideally not shock our systems with hard-to-digest foods or drinks like coffee. I personally even found eggs to be too heavy in the morning, and I know those are staple to many. Your liver is getting ready for the day, and as most of us eat late and tend to have the heaviest meals at dinner, the liver tends to be on over-drive already. Let's be gentle to the poor thing in the morning and remind our livers that we love them! They are responsible for 600+ functions, after all :)

There are many cleansing teas and drinks that fit in with this idea, but I am starting with one of the simplest ones possible! All you need is a lemon, mint, and a jar or pitcher.

Just wash the mint, "twist" it and add it to a jar or pitcher. The twisting or breaking of the leaves releases more of the flavour. Cut the lemon in quarters and just slice it as thin as possible and add it to the jar or pitcher as well. Add some cold water, give it a good stir or shake and you are done! Not only is the lemon/mint drink surprisingly refreshing and tasty, it is also alkalizes your body, which is a great way to start your day!

Most people tend to think of lemons as acidic, and while they can be on tooth enamel, etc., lemons are packed with minerals, so they leave behind a mineral "ash" once they leave our digestive system, making their net-effect actually alkaline! Lemons are also packed with vitamin C, which our body uses up every four hours, so it is a great drink to sip on throughout the day, constantly replenishing our vitamin C stores! Just make sure to rinse your teeth by sipping on plain water afterwards. Lemons also mimic HCl, or stomach acid, so it is always great to consume before a meal!

I chose mint as the herb to include because mint eases nausea and aids in our digestion by activating salivary glands which in turn secrete digestive enzymes, which is perfect for beginning your day. I actually discovered this little mix while working at Beit Zatoun, where it would always be available. I would drink it every day and feel great and had friends come who always filled their water canisters with it, especially in the summer. Apparently it is quite common in the Middle East, and as usual, there is always something nutritious behind these sorts of traditions!
Tried to get an artsy mid-stir shot, but that backfired
 So ease into your day with a cleansing and refreshing drink and see what a difference something so simple can make!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Raw Vegan Power Snack!

I was so excited about this post that I wanted to make the title all capitals, but then felt that it would seem too aggressive, so I compromised.

Since I began making almond milk again, I had a lot of almond pulp in the freezer. I mentioned in my post on almond milk some uses for the pulp, but this time I really wanted to use some of it for a delicious raw dessert. The almond pulp contains loads of protein and is nice and squishy so it can hold things together, so it is very convenient in raw or baked desserts.

I checked my cabinets and found cinnamon, coconut flakes, flax seeds, a few dates and also realized I had some almond milk that needed to be used as soon as possible!
Totally forgot to use the sunflower seeds!
So with just a couple of ingredients, here is a super simple recipe for a snack or even a breakfast! I guess they are technically almond-date balls, but you can easily just flatten them out and eat them like pancakes with some fruit on top! Would go great with some cinnamon/clove tea as well!

You can also add different ingredients of course, and I think next time I will include some ground cardamom, sesame seeds, as well as some coconut oil. For now, here is a delicious raw snack or dessert that took under 10 minutes to create!

After taking my almond pulp out of the freezer, the first thing I did was grind some flax seeds. Flax seeds are rich in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), soluble fibre, and they are also a great "connector" for all the other dry ingredients in this recipe! You can read more about the benefits of flax seeds here. Next up I cut up the dates I had as small as possible. I love dates because they are super sweet but also have a lot of fibre, keeping our blood sugar in check as the sugar releases gradually as a direct result of that fibre. These were super fresh dates from Iran and were quite sticky and hard to cut, but that would be good in the recipe itself:
Next up I just added a little bit of everything to the almond pulp, including the dates, and gave it a good stir. The stickiness of the dates, along with the flax seed powder were holding everything together like I suspected:
Added some almond milk for flavour & to complete the 'glue'!
Once everything was added, I just rolled the mixture into little balls and put them into a container and sprinkled on some extra coconut flakes. I tried one and it was delicious - the dates gave just the right amount of sweetness and all the other ingredients really complemented each other. I will keep them in the fridge so they harden and so the flax seed powder of course does not go rancid. So in just under 10 minutes, a super healthy and convenient power-snack was made! Will look forward to remembering I have these in the fridge on those hectic days:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hmoz/Hummus Recipe!

There are a few things I am pretentious about. One of them is my hmoz (aka my parent's) recipe.

Full disclosure: ever since I can remember, hmoz has been my favourite food in the universe. As a result of the large Armenian Diaspora, hmoz became a staple in Western Armenian Cuisine, so I had a lot of access to it - at home and in any Armenian restaurant in Canada. When I went vegan, one of my first thoughts was "oh but hmoz is vegan so I'm good". I actually used to think it was an Armenian dish until I found out otherwise. I can eat it every day without getting sick of it, and I like it with veggies, with bread, mixing it with grains or beans or anything else on my plate (tabouleh sandwich!), or even alone with a spoon.

I only realized I could be pretentious about hmoz when I started making full-on Canadian friends and we started having potlucks or eating at each other's houses. Someone would always make the mistake of saying they made "hummus" and I would become really excited, only to realize that it was mashed chickpeas with either garlic/lemon, or in one case (sorry Daniel), NOTHING ELSE. Needless to say, I would still eat it but with a lot of bitterness and gave people (sorry again Daniel) dirty looks.

One day I decided to stop getting annoyed and take action. I made it. Or I think I asked my mom to make it. Anyways, I took it to the next potluck proudly showcasing it. The result was fabulous and I think all my friends genuinely liked me a lot more as a result of that hmoz. The pretentiousness began to steer its sexy head.

I eventually moved on with my life, and one day decided to come to Armenia. I stayed with a host-family for over 7 months, and while my host-sister introduced me to some of my new favourite foods (basooc dolma, represent), I began to violently miss hmoz. I once saw it in a supermarket packaged in a can and bought it, only to realize it was a thick chickpea paste where you were supposed to add ingredients. Another time I saw it in another supermarket in the "buffet" section they have, and bought a container even though it looked strange. I knew it was missing some key ingredients, but there was still something in it that I couldn't put my finger on and really didn't like. My host-family would sometimes make it as well, and it had the exact same taste. I decided the next time my host-sister made it, I would watch. My pretentiousness began to peek out while I mentally noted that she didn't put 3 top ingredients, and then I saw what that taste was that I wasn't able to put my finger on: she had added both mayonnaise AND sour cream. When I asked her why, she said they put them in to make hmoz creamy because otherwise it would be too heavy/thick. I was shocked for two reasons, one being that I had eaten non-vegan food, and two, that adding mayonnaise/sour cream did not make any sense to me and was pretty gross.

I began to realize Armenians in Armenia, much like my Canadian friends, did not really know how to make hmoz.

Eventually I found some Western Armenian restaurants in Armenia and got my hmoz fix. However, the minute I moved out to my own place and began cooking for myself, I immediately bought a blender. Ideally, with hmoz, you would use a food processor, but to my knowledge they are nowhere to be found in Armenia, and I assume when I do find one it will be super expensive, so a blender is the second best choice.

So without talking about hmoz itself any more, here is the recipe that my grandparents and parents passed on to me. I'm not going to have kids so I refuse to let this recipe die with me, so you are welcome, my blog-babies. My mom's is still always better than mine, but compared with what is considered hummus these days, mine is pretty damn good (so pretentious!).

Ingredients:
-2 cups chickpeas, rinsed and soaked overnight (+ liquid they boiled in, more on this in the directions section)
-1-2 lemons, depending on how much juice they have
-2-3 garlic cloves
-Cumin powder
-1-2 tablespoons tahini
-2-3 tablespoons olive oil
-Pinch(es) of salt
-Red pepper (optional)
-Chopped parsley for decoration (optional)

Directions:
-Chickpeas take forever to cook if you do not soak them, which is why many people opt for the canned option. Soak them overnight and you will significantly cut the cooking time. Cook them until they are nice and tender and let them cool off. Don't discard the liquid - you will use it in the recipe.
Precious liquid!
 -Once cooled, add the chickpeas to the blender or food processor. Add about a 1/4th cup of the liquid with them as well.
-Chop your garlic and let it sit for 5 minutes before adding it. I think you know why by now, but if not, visit my post about the butternut squash dish :)
-Squeeze the lemon and add the juice. Usually the juice of 1 & 1/2 lemons is perfect, but if they are small or not too juicy, you can add both.
-Add the olive oil, cumin (I would put at least 3 tsp, sometimes more), red pepper, and tahini. Add some salt as well but don't go crazy cause you can never take that back.
-Add the garlic and begin to blend. Depending on how thick it is, you can slowly add more of the liquid the chickpeas were in to give it a smoother consistency. This liquid is like a 'broth' and adds flavour and creaminess (take that mayonnaise!)
-Blend or process until it is completely smooth, which does take a couple of minutes. In a blender I usually have to stop and stir a couple of times, but with a food processor there is usually no need. Taste it and if it needs more salt or cumin, add them now!
Put it into the prettiest bowl you have, drizzle on some olive oil, sprinkle on some cumin, red pepper (or paprika) and parsley and let it sit for a bit so all the flavours really mesh with each other. Enjoy it with some cut up veggies like celery, carrots, broccoli, or put it in some Romano lettuce leaves for a cute little wrap!
I didn't have parsley :(
In this recipe, the chickpeas provide us with some protein, the vitamin C from the lemon helps us absorb the non-hemme iron found in both the chickpeas and the cumin, the tahini provides us with easily digestible and alkaline calcium, the garlic* provides anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and the cumin aids in digestion! As if you needed more reasons to love this dish, eh?

Try out this simple recipe, and see if mayonnaise or sour cream have any place in it, and join me in being pretentious when someone brings mashed chickpeas at your next potluck and calls it hummus :)

*Did you know? Many people have trouble digesting garlic. One reason can be a skinny little green sprout found in the clove itself, which is actually where the strongest odor comes from. You can flatten your garlic with one smack with the flat end of a knife and see if there are any green sprouts inside. If so, simply remove them and see if it helps!
Found this on the internet, this hand is not mine for I would never let my nails grow that long

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Georigan Vacation Day 7, or "Extreme Biking!"

Today started in the wee hours of the morning. Gohar couldn't sleep because she was too excited about biking (bless her heart). She took her book to head out to the kitchen not to disturb my slumber BUT NOTHING PASSES ME. I apparently sleep-talked to her and said “I don't understand” which she assumed was me being awake and confused on why she was leaving the room. She explained and this time I didn't say no for no reason. The time has come for a gentler asleep Lena.

But alas, I woke up a few hours later, not being able to sleep either. Not sure if it was due to my itchy bug bites or being secretly excited about biking as well, or a combination. Gohar and I chatted about prisons in Armenia and beyond and she tried to keep a theme going to make sure I stayed awake but eventually I gave in to sleep. I remember constantly waking up because of my violent tossing and turning.

We woke up tired but got ready for our bike ride. The sky was cloudy so we thought it was the perfect weather for it, and hoped it would become sunnier afterwards so we could go for our swim. We couldn't find out original rent-a-bike kids but just a block down was another option so we chose the two bikes that “fit” best and were on our way. We noticed right away the bikes creaked a lot and regretted not test-riding them first, but they would do. The bike path in Kobuleti was incredibly smooth, so no matter how bad a bike someone had, the path could almost make up for it. There was a nice breeze and we were very happy with this decision. We passed a lot of other bikers as well, but like I would imagine it to be the same in Yerevan, lots of pedestrians didn't really seem to know (or care) what the paths were for and would just block it and there were a few cars actually parked directly on it. The worst was when we noticed a huge crowd not only blocking the bike path, but the entire side walk. We saw that they noticed us so were just waiting for them to move – from either side, but until Gohar almost hit one of them, they just stared and made no effort to move.

We biked until the bike path ended and decided to head back riding closer to the water. This is where the “extreme” biking made its debut. We biked on a smooth path until it turned into rubble and rocks and when we tried to get back onto the bike path had to swerve onto the road right away as there was a car blocking the path and pedestrians blocking the side walk. Two large trucks were driving and even though we stayed as close to the side as we could, it completely terrified me when they drove past. I kept thinking of my parents hearing about my death this way, and me being blamed for it: “There was a very distinct bike path right beside her, but she rebelled and didn't use it”. My parents would never know the truth.
This was taken in Yerevan, but same idea
Gohar and I yelled “extreme biking!” to each other a few more times when we thought we did something cool, and made it back to our bike boys at 50 minutes. We got to pay less and realized how sweaty we were. We walked home which made me realize how strange my thighs felt after not biking for so long and devoured more watermelon in our kitchen area. We changed to head to the beach but when we got there realized the crowd was small for a reason – the winds were strong and while the water may have been okay, the weather seemed too cold for being wet. We decided to read for a bit, then both of us ended up falling asleep for about half an hour, me always waking up when sellers of sunflower seeds and these gross corn puff chips would walk by screaming what they had.

We dropped our stuff off at home and decided if we couldn't swim we could go to the market and check out the spices. We walked about 30 minutes before finding the souk and I right away noticed a very fine strainer I fell in love with – I could use it to make almond milk. It was only 1 lari and it was MINE. We then saw a woman selling spices and again I fell in love. Whenever I sniffed one, I realized it was the main spice of a Georgian dish I loved – either a bean dish or a greens dish. Gohar and I bought khmeli-suneli (three different spices mixed together, on the spot) and seasoned salt and I also bought a small bag of hot Georgian red pepper. I kept feeling paranoid that I would become addicted to these spices and then run out, but I guess all the more reason to come back. We bought spicy seasoned salt for two friends as well and before the day was over, I became jealous of only having seasoned salt and not the spicy one, so I went back and bought that too.
Queen of spices
We asked the woman if she could recommend us a good place to get beans and she gave us a location we followed. Soon after getting there, Gohar realized this was the same place her dad and her ate at 3 years ago. It was a small hidden place, so we definitely would not have found it had the spice woman not explained how to get there. There were two Armenian men sitting and eating and after hearing us speak English, mocked us in Armenian. MY OWN PEOPLE. Gohar asked the woman working there if they had a bean soup and she said no. Crushed, she asked if they had bean dishes at all, and the woman said yes and we ordered two. She brought us a ridiculously huge basket of bread and delicious pickles and a hot pepper. When our bean dishes that were apparently not the soup Gohar had eaten 3 years ago with her father arrived, we realized it was in fact, bean stew, and the exact same dish Gohar had eaten. The 'ol soup VS stew debate! It arrived with forks but we asked for spoons to make a point. We feasted and they were delicious. I was too excited about my spices so I put in some of the hot pepper, which was actually quite hot, and then the spicy seasoned salt and was very pleased about my choices. We asked the woman working what they put in the beans and showed her what we bought and she said most bean dishes just have a little of everything we bought. My dreams were coming true. I took a bite of the hot pepper and Gohar told me to take it to our hostel instead which I didn't understand and am still wondering about. Did she mean as a memory? Or to eat it a later time? But she didn't want it and if I wanted it then, why would I save it to eat it at a future meal? I will get my closure.

The woman told Gohar she remembered her and her dad and Gohar told her about how much Kobuleti had changed in the past 3 years. Gohar then fed two kittens some of our bread and we decided to head back. Tired and full from the delicious beans, we sat on our beds and realized we could no longer extend. The weather on our last day was supposed to be sunny so we were okay with the decision. We ended up falling asleep and waking up not knowing what to do with ourselves. It had been raining and was quite chilly so we decided to watch more House – and guess what, more people died. I was getting used to it so it was not as sad as it used to be. STIFF UPPER LIP and all. We realized we were hungry so went to the market to get some more Georgian cheese, tomatoes, bread, and ice cream sandwiches because we needed a pick-me-up due to the weather. The bread men asked Gohar if she liked the Georgian “lavash” and she said yes. They then wanted to confirm if Yerevan was really as hot as people were saying and Gohar said she didn't know. My room mate had told me it was that day so I secretly did know.

We sat in our kitchen, ate, and watched Arrested Development. After eating the delicious ice cream sandwich, we decided it was time to put an end to the “small” 9kg watermelon. Gohar cut it up real nice and we officially ate the entire thing and have no regrets (except for the time Gohar had too many and felt sick).
Gohar's action shot
On our way back to our room I saw something weird on the stair railing. Upon further observation, I realized that it was a PRAYING MANTIS. It was trying to hide from me but to no avail. I stared at it as long as was socially acceptable and then got Gohar's iphone to take pictures. After learning about their mating habits and becoming a little obsessed with them, seeing it in actual form was a little like seeing a celebrity. I was nervous. Gohar asked if I knew if it was a female or male but I did not. Females are larger but I had nothing to compare it to. Oh if only a male showed up and we could watch the mating in practice—and confirm which was a female. Gohar asked if there was a way to prevent it from getting into our rooms and I replied with something witty but I forget what it was now.
I was so nervous!
At this point it began raining and was cold enough that we shut all the windows. We checked the weather forecast online and the next day was supposed to be sunny and warm so we didn't feel too bad about the weather. We watched some TEDx talks about nutrition, a youtube video of a spoken word artist talking about breastfeeding in public and then watched some more House until we were tired enough to sleep. Gohar couldn't sleep until 2am so she was chatting with friends from Yerevan on her iphone and e-mailing me the few pictures we took until she realized it would be a lot faster with a computer. She eventually fell asleep and joined me in getting one step closer to our dreaded last day :(

Observations: I still don't really get what TED or TEDx is and am too embarrassed to ask Gohar again.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Almond Milk (Mylk) Recipe & Photo Guide!

A few days ago I finally remembered to pick up some almonds from the shuga (market) & decided it was time to make almond milk! All you need to make it is a blender, and it is a super easy recipe that is nutritious and not acidic, unlike milk :) I use it in smoothies, to make raw desserts (will feature one soon), for chai and anything else where you would normally use milk. Very simple process and I always make sure to use the pulp as well so no waste!

I initially became interested in learning how to make almond milk when I went vegan, and ended up enjoying it a lot and prefer it over milk and any other milk-alternatives. It is healthy, very simple to make, and factory farm raised dairy cows are often treated much worse than cows raised solely for their meat, so it's also a good way to avoid supporting animal mistreatment and abuse. Milk is also very acidic and many people are lactose-intolerant, so it's always a great recipe to keep in mind!

What you need:
-At least 1 cup of almonds, soaked overnight (or longer as long as you change the water)
-Water
-Blender
-Strainer (cheesecloth or the metal ones work well)

The first thing you need to do is soak those almonds! Just make sure they are fully covered in water and try to do it at least for 12 hours in the case of almonds (seeds require less time). Remember my fear of my blender breaking down for no reason? Well this softens the almonds enough to make sure that doesn't happen! Also, while eating foods raw is extremely nutritious as the foods have their own active enzymes (when not heated) to help us digest, nuts and seeds have something in them called 'enzyme inhibitors'. They can easily be deactivated when they are soaked and properly rinsed! Win-win! Just make sure to discard the water they have been soaking in and to rinse them well, since they are both covered in these inhibitors! Think about it like this - if you leave a raw almond on soil, nothing will happen. If you soak that almond and leave it, it will begin to sprout!
Soak party!
Soaking them also softens the almonds enough to easily remove the skin. I don't mind the skin and there are countless ways to use the pulp as well so I have never removed them.

Give them a good ol rinse in a strainer and the longest part of this recipe is officially complete:
Once you have soaked the almonds and rinsed them thoroughly, add them to your blender. Depending on how creamy you like your milk (mylk), add the water. I tend to add at least 6-8 cups of water to 1 cup of almonds, which is light but still tasty and creamy.

Almost at full capacity (I don't take chances with my blender!)
Blend! Blend until the almond chunks become ground. You can watch them float around in the blender and stop it when they become small and the liquid becomes creamy:
Paranoid Lena thoughts: please don't break, please don't break, please don't break
Next up you should pour the liquid through a strainer into a bowl and squeeze your cheesecloth dry, or grab a flat spoon to squeeze out the remaining liquid from the metal strainer.
This part is fun
Transfer the mylk into a bottle and keep it in the fridge. It will last about 4 or 5 days, and like milk, you can tell when it has gone bad :)
Yum!
The pulp can be used in two ways that I know of: in food or as a skin scrub! The best use of it in food includes using it as a protein-packed topping for salads or baked goods like muffins, or as a filler/base for raw desserts. I tend to mix my pulp with chopped dates, cacao powder, cinnamon, lemon zest and coconut flakes into little almond-date balls, which are absolutely delicious and you can mix and match it with your favourite spices or toppings. Or you can mix the pulp with some coconut oil and keep it in the shower to use as a natural body/face scrub before your shower. Or both!
Your fate will include being in my stomach and on my skin
 Almonds are rich in magnesium (anti-stress mineral), vitamin E (healthy skin!), tryptophan (mood-enhancer), and B2 (energy production). Since this recipe also encourages the use of the pulp, you are benefiting from the high protein amount found in almonds as well! To learn more about protein check out this post.

You can spice up or sweeten your almond milk as well with some of the following ingredients (best to do once the pulp has been removed):
-Vanilla extract or beans
-Cinnamon powder
-Cardamom pods or powder
-Stevia or honey

Just add the mylk back into the blender once the pulp has been removed and re-blend it with any or all of the ingredients listed above for a delicious specialty drink!

Enjoy! Next up I will have a recipe for that extra almond pulp!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Georgian Vacation Day 6, or "UPGRADE"

Gohar wakes me up to go for our run as we planned to be on the road for 10am. I drink some water and we head out. It has never been this sunny this early in the morning before and we begin sweating profusely. We make our 15 minute mark in 13 minutes and head back. I am feeling quite dehydrated on this run so am a little more tired/sluggish than normal. When we get to our 30 minute mark, Gohar mentions it has been less than 20 minutes. We thought we made a mistake but realize we just ran a lot faster on the way back. We are impressed but too sweaty to really revel in it. We added some sprints but decided to try gradual acceleration this time and headed home. We quickly changed, had our protein shake and went straight for our last swim in Gonio. We had at least an hour before we had to head out to Kobuleti. Gohar and I swam more individually this time, both preoccupied with our mixed feelings of leaving Gonio and heading to the unknown. Batumi was interesting but I definitely preferred Gonio over it, but we were becoming quite bored with Gonio so I didn't really know what to expect from Kobuleti. Regardless, we dried up, headed home and ate the remaining vegetables and packed. We said goodbye to our host-family and took their number and our host-dad walked us to the mashootka stop and told us we were good girls. We realized we couldn't take a mashootka straight to Kobuleti but had to take one to Batumi and then another to our final destination. We got off at the right spot and about 5 mashootka drivers told us how to get to the stop that would take us to Kobuleti and we boarded a bus where the driver waited until it was full to leave.

When we arrived in the centre, we began walking in the direction Gohar knew her host-family from 3 years ago was. She wasn't exactly sure where it was but felt we were at least headed in the right direction on the right street. On the way, 3 men sitting outside a gated area started talking in Russian with Gohar. They chatted for a bit and she told me they asked if we wanted to stay in the family run hostel behind them. We realized we could stay for just $7/night and when he showed us the place, we were sold. It was like a castle: stairs that twirled, beautiful colours, spacious rooms with large windows, huge showers and bathrooms. We both said “UPGRADE” to each other many times. We were paying a little more in Gonio for a lot less.
Twirly stairs!
We became delirious with excitement but realized we were also very hungry so headed out to get some lunch. We bought tomatoes and suluguni (Georgian cheese) and Gohar saw signs that read “lavash” (Armenian flat bread) and we decided that would be the perfect meal. But when we approached a bread maker, he told Gohar what he meant by lavash was a completely different bread. She asked if other places had Armenian lavash and he said no. We bought the Georgian version and on the way back home to eat, realized how beautiful Kobuleti was – a perfect mix of village and city. Just enough city to keep things interesting and just enough village to make it different and cozy. It was a place we definitely wanted to explore.

We made our sandwiches and the tomatoes were delicious just like Armenia's tomatoes when they are in season. We finished eating and were told there was wifi in our rooms. UPGRADE CENTRAL. I logged on and was able to get some work done which relaxed me and Gohar and I headed off to the beach, deciding to buy an ice cream on the way as a celebration. We had watched an episode of Arrested Development where George Sr. was eating/savouring an ice cream sandwich in prison and Gohar and I both talked about how we had eaten that exact same type (in the US and Canada respectively) and how delicious it was. We wished they existed in Yerevan and sighed. When we went looking for ice cream, we joked that maybe Georgia had ice cream sandwiches and of course we ended up finding them. We bought two and headed to the beach. The first thing we noticed was that there was an actual crowd here and laughed about how we thought 3 people was “busy” in Gonio. This was hardcore. We found a spot and began eating our ice creams which hit the spot – half was covered in chocolate and the other half was a traditional ice cream sandwich. I couldn't believe how good it was and for the first time EVER, the real thing was as good as the idea itself.
I am too impressed with myself that I found this
Gohar and I headed into the water and decided to swim to the buoy again to feel invincible. I copied Gohar from the previous time and held it as a sign of accomplishment and asked Gohar if she was going to hold it too. She said yes she would because she wanted to steady herself while she peed. I laughed and swimmed away pretending to give her a sense of privacy even though no one else was around. She called my name about 20 seconds later and out of nowhere there were two young men swimming towards her, mid-pee I assume, and they both seemed very intent on holding the buoy as well. Competition. I watched as Gohar refused to let go and go somewhere else, even as they both awkwardly held it as well. Gohar had the strangest look on her face and I knew she made up her mind: she would finish the pee as a form of protest. And she did.

We swam back, lost our spot for at least 15 minutes and by then the sun was gone so it was a little chillier so we left sooner than anticipated. Then Gohar asked if I would want to run since it was the perfect weather for it (nice breeze). We decided to do it while running in the direction she thought her old host-family would be, and then on the way back we would pick up a watermelon to devour. MULTI-TASKING AT ITS FINEST.

We began our smooth run and realized Kobuleti even has bike paths on the sidewalks. We ran by parks, tree houses, tennis courts, markets and were really beginning to love the area, even wishing we had spent less time in Gonio and more time here. We saw bikes on the street and found out we could rent them at a much better price/deal than in Batumi and we became ecstatic. We decided the next day we would go for an early bike ride, swim, head to the markets to buy all the spices in Georgia and then head back to the beach. We finished our run without finding Gohar's old house and bought the smallest watermelon (9kg, represent) and headed home to eat it, shower, check e-mails and sleep.

We ate too much and Gohar felt sick. We put the rest in the fridge (this hostel had a full on kitchen open to only us) and showered, settling in for the night. We definitely wish we spent more time on Kobuleti and are already thinking of extending...dun dun dun!!

Observations: Georgian drivers are as insane with pedestrians as Armenian ones.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Green Smoothie Time!

Working at Go Green Armenia has many perks: I get to travel to different farms weekly, meet interesting farmers, and check out firsthand what new and non-traditional vegetables are being planted. A few weeks ago, to my very pleasant surprise, I discovered that KALE had successfully made its debut in Armenia. I quickly put in my order for 2 bunches, and after 20 minutes of our farmer trying to convince me to marry his son (we have never met), I had my goodies. The two bunches I picked up looked exactly like the curly kale I knew back home with one difference: they are HUGE.

We took some pictures to show the size and then Moogeeg became upset because he wasn’t the centre of attention, and we had to spend 10 minutes comforting him:
Bigger than my face!
Moogeeg is reassured that he is all that matters in the universe
Kale is considered a super food, and with plenty of good reason! Kale is rich in vitamin A (night vision, represent!), vitamin K (helps our blood clot when we have a cut so we don’t bleed to death), vitamin C (anti-oxidant), tryptophan (mood enhancer), vitamin B6 (memory), calcium (bone health), and much, much more!

When you have a blender and kale, a nutritious and delicious green smoothie is a must! I made them all the time back home and included lots of special “add-ons”. What I love about smoothies is that they are one of the most convenient and quickest ways to make sure you are getting your vegetable servings in. There are just some days (like this entire month) when things can get so busy and hectic that you never have the time to actually think ahead and prepare nutritious meals for yourself throughout the day. However, with smoothies you can pack many servings of greens and veggies (as well as fruits) in one drink, and at least know that no matter how busy you are for the rest of the day, you have already had a couple of servings of veggies and fruits and as a result, lots of fibre! 

They are also a great way to sneak in some “add-ons"--especially if the add-ons have a horrible taste! My favourite ones include brewer’s yeast (I will never be able to consume it by itself), maca, flax seed powder, sea weed, and sesame seed powder. In that one smoothie, I have gotten plenty of nutritious greens in, as well as made sure that my cell’s receptors were able to take in glucose (brewer’s yeast), helped out my adrenal glands (maca), gotten my Essential Fatty Acids (flax seed), my B12 and iodine (sea weed), and of course consumed a high amount of alkaline calcium (sesame seeds). Talk about a super meal!

Smoothies are also so easy for our bodies to digest, so your liver will love you! Think of them as “liquid salads” where you are pre-chewing by blending so that your enzymes can quickly focus on assimilating the nutrients and digesting the content. You can have them early in the morning as your first meal to ease into the day, or if you have had a heavy lunch, can have them as a light dinner as not to disrupt your liver’s ‘resting’ time - you will see the difference in how rested you feel in the morning!  While juices have a time and place (especially for cleanses), smoothies keep all the fibre (pulp) of the vegetables and fruits, so on a more frequent basis, smoothies are a better choice! 

I was heart-broken when the initial blender I bought in Armenia broke down after I made my 10th hummous with it, but luckily my very thoughtful friends, Gohar, Arpine and Allegra, all bought me a new one for my birthday. I have already used it to make hummous (500th and counting!), as well as for blending soups and grinding seeds. It was time to add smoothies to that list.

I let Gohar, Allegra and Nayiry know that Friday was officially smoothie day. Gohar was apprehensive and made weird faces letting me know I had something to prove. And prove I did!

Here is a recipe I made using almost all local Armenian ingredients. The only imported items were the orange (Georgia) and the bananas (unknown as they were “borrowed”).

Ingredients:
-1 bunch kale (our bunches in Armenia are HUGE so I only used half)
-1 bunch spinach
-1 banana
-1 orange
-1/2 an apple
-A handful of raspberries (during the summer I freeze them so I rarely add ice to the smoothies)
-3 TBSP flaxseeds, ground (for 3 people)
-Lots of water!
This will all be in my stomach soon
As to make anything with this many greens taste good, fruit becomes a necessity. Keep in mind that this recipe is good for 3 people, and since there was a lot of fruit, I decided to add some extra fibre (ground flax seed) so that our blood sugar levels would not rise dramatically. Of course there is plenty of fibre in the whole fruit itself, but I still like to add extra fibre whenever I can since it promotes elimination, removes toxins, keeps our blood sugar in check, and a soluble form like flax seed is a gentle cleanser of our intestine and colon! Flax seed also has Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) that are especially important for vegetarians and vegans to focus on, so, as I like to say, win-win!

First, grind your flax seed. There is an important aspect when dealing with flax seeds as they contain EFAs, which are extremely sensitive to both light and heat, so it is very important to grind them as fresh as possible. Many stores sell ground flax seed or flax seed oil in transparent bottles out on the shelf, and you can bet your boots they are both rancid. In every case where someone has told me they do not like flax seed oil, it has been because they were consuming the rancid version, which has a very bitter taste. Fresh flax oil is light and nutty, and the longest flax oil tends to last is just two weeks. Whenever I grind flax seed, I make just enough that will last me about a week, and put it in a dark container that I keep in the freezer. Flax seed is also indigestible when eaten whole so make sure to consume it as a powder or as an oil. The powder has the benefit of fibre and the oil has the benefit of being a very direct/instant source of EFAs. Why are they so essential you ask? Simply put, our body cannot make them on their own! They are necessary for cell wall formation so that our cell walls are permeable enough for nutrients to get in, and are crucial in the development of our nervous system, by coating and protecting our neurons. They are also natural blood-thinners (take that, baby aspirin!), preventing blood clots.
You can do this with any coffee grinder
Grind & then transport to a dark container & into the freezer!
Next chop all of your ingredients just enough to make the work of your blender easier (I still fear it will break down on me, so I treat it well). First add 80% of the water you will use, then the soft fruit like the bananas, oranges and raspberries, followed by all other fruit, then the greens. Then add any powders, in this case the ground flax, and add the rest of the water:
Start blending the mix, and remember, the longer you blend it, the thinner the consistency will be. Remember it is supposed to be a “liquid salad”, so make sure it is actually a liquid! In Canada I used to only blend my smoothies for about 30 seconds for reasons unknown, and ended up needing a spoon to consume them. One day, while I was waiting for the 30 second mark, I heard a loud “bang” in my room and ran there only to see that one of our cats had knocked over my water cup so I had about 10 seconds to save my computer from being utterly destroyed (it felt dramatic at the time). After yelling horrible insults (in Armenian of course) to my confused cat, I realized the blender was still on so I ran back, assuming it would explode. It had run for over one minute and a half and when I poured it into my jar, surprise, surprise, it had a much smoother consistency, which made it all the more enjoyable. My life was changed and my cat had some extra almond milk that day, equating knocking my things over with treats, unfortunately.
So blend until you cannot see any chunks of green anymore (like above), and pour in your cups and enjoy as soon as possible, since oxidation does of course begin to decrease the vitamin content!
3 happy campers! (One had to take the picture, of course!)
Delicious, smooth and very nutritious! Gohar enjoyed it and even licked the cup clean at the end so I knew that my work was done! You can change the recipe and incorporate your favourite fruits, but aim to keep a good amount of greens and veggies in as well. Some other options can be collard greens, chard, broccoli (stems and/or flowers), etc.!

Learn to appreciate the kale-stache:

GOT KALE?! (Armenia does!)
*All photos taken by either Gohar Khachatryan or Allegra Garabedian





Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vospov Chorbah/Abour...or Red Lentil Soup!

I would like to politely interrupt the current Georgia-vacation postings, if I may, since this IS a nutrition blog as well (says so on the homepage!).

As the the humidity of summer comes to an end, and is replaced by a nice cool breeze, it is time to celebrate one of the best aspects of fall: making SOUP!

I love soup. To quote Buster from Arrested Development, "I could lie in bed all day drinking soup and I would be happy". Soup heats you up inside-out and makes life cozier. I tend to make large pots of soups so it is always associated with inviting friends over to enjoy it together. There are so many different types of soups, I can never understand how anyone can not like it.

My personal favourite is vospov chorbah, or red lentil soup. It is a soup from my childhood, and since my mom is an amazing cook, hers was always better than any restaurant. She kept it simple and delicious and fall would always be a reminder to me that vospov chorbah would become a weekly dinner.

It took me a while to learn how to master it, since there are little tricks to make it perfect. If one thing didn't go right when I would try to re-create it (like that time I forgot to buy cumin and was already in my pajamas), I would consider it a huge fail and eat the soup with so much bitterness and would refuse to let anyone else try it.

But no more! I have made this soup so often that I consider myself a pro. I still would get nervous if I had to make it for my mom, but for friends and other family, it is as good as it gets. I stick with the original recipe and it is considered to be "Western Armenian" cuisine - hence the use of the Turkish "chorbah" rather than abour.

So after all this rambling, there is no better day than today to make a nutritious and delicious soup that will ease you into the chillier times. Here we go!

What you need (and don't forget anything like I did and hate yourself for 3 entire hours):
-Red lentils! (Surprisingly, they are quite uncommon in Armenia, where the small dark green lentil reigns supreme. You can always find it though, if you look hard enough. Or in any Syrian-Armenian shop!)
-1 large yellow onion, or a couple of small/medium ones
-Salcha! Aka tomato paste
-Cumin. Never forget the cumin.
-1 bunch parsley (you will use less so if you have some lying around, no need to buy more)
-Red hot pepper powder (even if you do not care for spicy food, a little makes a nice difference)
-A tablespoon of oil (we keep it light)
-Salt
-1 lemon

To begin:
You must rinse the lentils repeatedly. If you follow anything I say in this post, let it be this: RINSE THE LENTILS MULTIPLE TIMES. It is the only boring part that I dread but is so necessary. The lentils are filthy and grimy and you will see it in the colour of the water. I really get in there and fill the pot and violently shake it with my hand (so therapeutic) and then drain that water, not letting any of my lentils follow, and repeat this at least 4-5 times. Then, depending on the colour of the water, you can put the lentils in a strainer (make sure the holes are small enough to keep the lentils from falling through!) and give them another good rinse. I could go on about how many times improper rinsing led myself and others to become very sick - the bad stomach-queasy sick where you don't remember what not being sick felt like. So please do this part - the lentils will taste better and you will not miss out on important events with a bad excuse no one will believe like "the dirt from my lentils made me sick since I didn't listen to Lena's warning". You will also be so embarrassed when I find out!
Colour of doom
Second, and this is somewhat boring as well but much quicker: add just enough water to cover the lentils by half an inch (it is meant to be a thick soup) and begin boiling. You can keep some water boiled in a kettle if you need to add more, not to stunt the cooking process. Once it begins to boil, you will see foamy bubbles rise to the top, covering the beautiful lentils. Remove as much of this foam as you can! I once decided not to when I was trying out a rebellious phase and really noticed the difference in taste. So remove as many of these foamy bubbles as you can while it boils.
Action shot!
While the lentils are cooking foam bubble-free, chop your large onion or medium ones. My mom sometimes adds it in whole as it is meant for flavour, but I like to chop mine occasionally too. Add them to the pot while the lentils are cooking so they cook together.

After about 10 minutes or so, add the oil, salt and 1-1&1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and lower the heat. Stir it occasionally. The lentil soup should have a nice orange colour. If it is red, you have put too much tomato paste and you will have to live with that for the rest of you life.

About 7 minutes later, check on the lentils and as they are almost done, add the cumin, salt and red pepper. Chop some parsley while the lentils finish cooking (they should be quite lumpy), and once they are done, turn off the heat, add some chopped parsley, stir, and cover the pot. Let it sit as this is when lentil soup really begins to be all it can be - very flavourful and mushy (that is a good thing).

When you are ready to enjoy the soup, you can sprinkle on some extra cumin and parsley, a couple of squeezes of lemon, and enjoy!
The lentil soup can stand on its own, but we paired it with a nice salad too!
Not only is this soup delicious, but it has protein and iron. While plant-based iron (non-hemme) is harder for the body to absorb, vitamin C helps us absorb it! So the vitamin C present in both the parsley and lemon work with the iron creating a win-win and delicious situation!

You can also blend this soup, which is what most restaurants do in order to give it a liquid consistency.

I would love to hear how yours turned out! I will be so proud of my little blog-babies!

Did you know? our bodies use up vitamin C in 4 hours! Talk about an important vitamin! Considering vitamin C is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants that clear out free radicals (toxins) in our body, make sure to incorporate it as many times as you can during your day!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Georgian Vacation Day 5, or “Lena Finally Does Yoga and Has Real Opinions on it, Based on Real Life Experience”:

I am up around 8am. Gohar was up before me as usual snacking on almonds. THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM.

She asks me the daily question of whether I will do yoga or not. All out of excuses, I agree, mischievously. We have our protein shake, wear our bikinis and put on “yoga clothes” (pretty much running clothes in disguise) and head to the beach. Gohar teaches me some yoga moves for about an hour and it is pretty hardcore. I realize it involves a lot more strength than I assumed and I kind of like it. She is also a good teacher so that helps. We can finally justify bringing two yoga mats.

We go directly to swim and the water is chillier than usual—probably because there was no sun out the day before. We swim for about 45 minutes and as usual it is amazing and refreshing. We finally swim to one of the buoys and Gohar grabs it as a sign of our success. I grab it too because I didn't have an original way to also celebrate. We start swimming back but Gohar doesn't seem to want to let go of the buoy and I tell her it is time to move on with her life. Perhaps it was the yoga that inspired me or that I was still tired from the previous day's humidity in Batumi, but I became obsessed with doing the dead man's float as it is very relaxing. But then Gohar tells me I am going to make the lifeguards think I am dead/drowning and this makes me paranoid enough to only be able to do it for 15 seconds at a time. Crisis averted!

We realize we are hungry and get out to smash walnuts which has become a favourite past-time once we learned how to master it.
Gohar displaying our hidden treasure
We eat and read and head back before noon. We buy some bread, cheese and apples and have a little feast in our rooms with some peppers, cucumbers and carrots we still had. We have naps (what are we, Italians?) and head back to swim in the sun as our skin is now ready. We surprisingly forgot that 2-4 is the hottest time of the day and when all the jellyfish and garbage come out to play. The sun is also in full force. We head in to about our waists, and for the first time, retreat all together. Too many jellyfish and too much garbage. We were wondering why no one else was swimming. We sat to read but it was way too hot and being by the water was self-inflicted torture. We headed back, saying “fail” repeatedly.

Gohar napped and did weird things with her feet while I again tried to, but was instead distracted by Gohar's feet. I took a full on shower now that my body wasn't in pain and noticed that my forehead began to peel which always looks quite dashing. Gohar woke up and wanted to go for a night swim and I was supposed to meet her but I fell asleep and she got back before I made an effort to meet her. She said the lifeguard gave her a chair and said something she didn't understand. When she came back she took a quick shower and we headed off to buy a watermelon. We wanted to eat it with our host-family since it was our last night. We picked (stole) two apples from their tree and found the watermelon that looked the best and also factored in weight since we were going to carry it home. We worried that it was too small and Gohar became paranoid that she would only get two slices. We gave it to our host-dad and he asked when we would like to have it and we said whenever was good for them.

We decided to go for a walk by the beach. The view was completely picturesque with a pink and purple sky with the water looking crystal blue and one star or planet shining. This is the kind of things they put on postcards. We ruined it by talking about what it would be like to be a drug dealer in Georgia and about carrying guns in the water. We walked for 30 minutes or so and headed home. On the way I saw a truck driver watching a Turkish soap opera in his truck and got to an angle where I could watch it too. All soap operas zoom in on angry/surprised people too much. That connection alone should end racism.
We went to our rooms and waited for our host-family to call us to feast on the watermelon we were craving. About 30 minutes later, we thought maybe they didn't understand our gesture and thought we just bought them a watermelon. Or maybe they forgot we were leaving that night and thought we had more time to eat it together. Gohar was becoming surprisinly paranoid and we decided that if they didn't call us by 11pm, we would just sleep, watermelon-less and sad. Soon after, we were invited to share the watermelon. The youngest member of the family, Ana, was particularly excited. She made her father cut pieces and feed them to her, while she told him that Gohar and I would talk to her but she never understood what we were saying. We then found out she thought we were her relatives, and that was why we were staying there. She didn't accept that we were going to be leaving the next day and kept yelling anytime someone said “Yerevan” in protest. We chatted a bit and Gohar and I headed off for the night to be rested for the following day.

We decided to watch an episode of House and again someone died and I wondered if it was the new theme for that show.

Observations: Gohar does weird things with her feet when she sleeps. More on this later.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Georgian Vacation Day 4 or “Reason #75 that Children Are Not for Me”

Gohar wakes up at 7am and I wake up at 7:20am. WE ARE ALMOST IN SYNC. We decide to go for a run right away which gets us both excited. We stretch and begin. The day is much more humid than the last and we start sweating like nobody's business. On the way back from the 15 minute mark the wind is strong which is a nice change. I keep trying to relax my shoulders since Gohar noticed I look too tense when I run. This of course just makes me more tense. We run by a group of kids who seem to be training for something – we call them “the army”. But they don't know how to sprint we notice. We finish a great run and decide to add some sprints/strides. We make an end mark with some rocks and do about 6 strides which always ends up making you feel like a rock star. We stretch some more and begin to head back. The lifeguard comes by and he and Gohar talk about running, and he says he runs every morning around 6am and every night. She says she will run with him the following night, as it will be our last night in Gonio. He asks if she will drink beer with him that night and she says she doesn't like/drink beer. He asks if she will drink a small cup. She repeats her answer.

We have our protein shake and decide to head to Batumi to see about riding those bikes. We are invested in this idea so much that we know it will probably fail. We eat some of the veggies we bought and head out, realizing the sun is not coming out but it is still a nice day. This mashootka is the first one so far that does not have an automatic door. When all the seats are full, we stop to pick up another passenger who is about to get on but then sees that all the seats are full and doesn't board. In Armenia the mashootka could be packed like sardines and people would still get on. We get off at the right spot and head straight to an internet cafe with one goal: extending our stay.  We originally bought our ticket to return on Wednesday night but we knew there was the option of extending – we just couldn't remember what days there were other than Wednesday. We were worried that it would be a Sunday, which we couldn't do, since one of Gohar's friend was in town for a ridiculously short period of time, and coming back Sunday night would not give her enough time to see her. We hoped there would be a Friday option. We logged on in order to find a friend from Yerevan to call the bus station for us and let us know our fate. She was online...but away. Gohar messaged her with a thousand exclamation marks and I messaged her saying we needed her. No reply. We both messaged people to call her but her phone was not on. Another friend was on but right before we asked him to do us the favour, Arpine (original friend) messaged me back saying she was there. I told her what we needed and she seemed annoyed because she thought something bad had happened. Shouldn't she have been happy/relieved nothing bad had happened? SORRY TO DISAPPOINT ARPINE! She called and made our day – we could extend until Friday night which meant we could have two full days in Kobuleti. We were happy and that happiness gave us a sense of entitlement that we would be able to rent bikes for a day. We were invincible.
Photographic evidence of Arpine being fed up with us
We began our journey of finding out where exactly to rent these bikes from. Two men were renting them from the bike stand and when Gohar tried her automatic Russian with them they surprisingly asked if she spoke English. A first! Gohar slickly switched and they told us we needed these specific bike cards and told us the place to get them was where the “dancing fountains” were in the centre by the Zeus statue. The instructions seemed specific enough but we had been in the centre and had seen no Zeus statue. We had seen a Poseidon statue. Get your Greek gods straight, boy. After many wrong turns and asking many people, we found the place. We went in and it was crowded and humid. Two tourists were in front of us asking all the questions we wanted to ask. We realized we needed to have brought passports and that the minimum time you could rent the bikes for was 10 hours, which was 20 lari. They asked everything I thought - “but what if we just ride for 2 hours – can we get the rest of our money back?” The rude teller told him the card was good for a year and the money would not be returned and asked them to make a decision and leave because people were waiting. We accepted that we wouldn't bike and left.

By this time Gohar let me know she was very hungry and we decided to go to a Georgian version of SAS to see what we could get. We bought a container of beans, an eggplant thing I've had before and a cornbread. Right before check out Gohar also wanted to get madzoun so we added that and we left to have a picnic. It took three test spots before we found the perfect place to sit and eat. The beans were of course the highlight, being too delicious to put into words. As much as I love my basooc dolma, Armenia has got nothing on the Georgian ability to use spices. They got it right. I decided I would buy too many spices when we were in Kobuleti to try and re-create these beans. Everything else was tasty and we decided to head back – Batumi was much more humid than Gonio and we were feeling tired because we are nene-central.

We rejected what seemed like 500 taxi invitations and got on our mashootka home. This one was a little more crowded and officially had about 2 men standing. Even little boys got up to let women sit. We got off and headed home to rest a bit before heading to the beach. But then the youngest family member of the house, Ana, saw us and we knew it was too late. She lead us into our rooms, made us close the door so her mom wouldn't realize she was there and played on Gohar's phone with a cat talking-back game. This would have been fine but this was one of the loudest and most hyper children ever and she would scream at the cat and we had to assume she was saying bad things. She would scream something, the cat would of course repeat it and then she would become really angry, I assume because the cat used her insults against her. She realized if she poked the screen she was punching the cat and really enjoyed that. A little too much. She then began licking Gohar's phone repeatedly for reasons unknown. I wish I understood Georgian.
Ana smiling because she knows where we sleep
Gohar napped a bit while I tried but it seemed like every single child in the neighbourhood began crying at the same time and I couldn't relax my tense eyebrows enough to sleep. When she woke up we decided to go to the beach but not do yoga. I thought this would be the trip where I would learn to love yoga and actually do it, but so far I have come up with an excuse not to do it every time—this time being “I am too tired for trying something I have never tried before but I will gladly splash around for an hour or so!” I am a creature of comfort apparently!

We swam and it was much nicer than the previous night – a little garbage here and there and a few jellyfish, but it was amazing and all under a neon orange sky. Gohar screams every time there is a jellyfish and it is so dramatic I automatically assume it is a shark. In the black sea. Stranger things have happened.

We are also getting what I think are June bugs in our room at night. I remember them from my childhood – we would have a lot in the basement and they were a kid's worst nightmare: blind bugs that could fly. I always thought they might be very well-intentioned flies, but due to their blindness could not help but bump into screaming children repeatedly. One fell on Gohar's pillow and as she gently put it out the window, I heard her say “go away June bug, your time is over” (it is July).

Observation: Growing up doesn’t make June bugs any less creepy apparently! Same for centipedes. Spiders can be OK.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Georgian Vacation Day 3 or “How to Hold Rocks with your Feet Like a Parrot”

Gohar is awake before me. We are both in pain. I realize my first time trying yoga shouldn't be when I cannot even walk without feeling my skin burning, so we decide to just go for a swim. We have our protein shake and head to the beach, where the lifeguard greets us and right away pulls out two fancy chairs for us. Gohar tries to pay him but he refuses. She tries a little more and gets the money in his hand but he then sneakily puts it on my chair. I accept defeat but Gohar the sly fox pretends we will leave and he finally takes it. We read for a bit and head right in the water, early enough that there is for sure no sun to worry about and we feel the water cooling our burns. The swim was great as usual and I still see no jelly fish. My knee feels almost 100% better as well which I celebrate in my own way of splashing a lot.

We get out about an hour or so later and get right to smashing walnuts – but this time on fancy beach chairs. We give one to the lifeguard and when Gohar goes back in to swim, comes out screaming because there were jellyfish and she can't stand touching them. I still don't know if they sting or not but we notice an Armenian family beside us and each one is obsessed with picking them up and playing with them, so I have to assume not. The youngest child picked one up and dropped it by the rocks and then tried to throw a rock at it in disgust (then why did you pick it up, annoying child?) and the older brother said “meghk a” (it is pitiful) and rescued the jellyfish. This kind of made my day.

When it is around 11am we decide to be safe and head back. The lifeguard brought us an umbrella by this time but we made a plan to avoid the sun until our skin healed. We ate cucumbers, carrots, peppers and nectarines and watched some more House – all the episodes were really sad and all the patients seemed to die (spoiler alert). I cried a little and wondered if Gohar did too. We read and around 4ish made the plan to head back to the beach at 5pm when the sun wouldn't be as scary. Outside our window looked quite shady so we felt confident and went for a “night” swim. We sat down and right away realized the sun was still way too strong and that our skin felt like it was fire. I wrapped Gohar's shawl all around my face and shoulders and chest and she did Yoga. We tried to meditate which only made me think of the dog I had in Yerevan for 2 weeks and then began to read.

Around 6pm we felt there was no change – but hearing the water splashing was too much of a temptation to bear. We kept debating to go in or not – but realized our already burnt skin would just get worse. We decided to go for a walk for an hour or so and then head back to swim. The options in Gonio were pretty limited. About 20 minutes into our walk, where we were sweating quite a bit, Gohar suggested we go back home and wait there to pass the time as we were still under the strong sun. I agreed and it took a good hour and a half for the sun to calm the fuck down. We realized it was officially the perfect time – the sun was just setting, the water was still relatively warm and the wind was calm.

We went in, which was still super painful for our feet and Gohar told me to “hold the rocks with my feet like a parrot” and I couldn't stop laughing. Apparently she could do this. We swam a bit, and I finally saw a jellyfish. And many more. And a lot of garbage. It was everywhere and things kept touching us and anytime we tried to do some distance swimming, felt like we were swimming directly into garbage. How could the sea have changed within a day? Either the area we were in was dirty or the waves were so strong during the day that they brought a bunch of garbage with them to the shallower areas.

We soon got out, dried off and Gohar lit an incense her friend brought for her from India, which was the first one that didn't give me a headache as a result of a fragrancy-like smell. We sat and made our plans for the following day, which included a run, swim and heading to Batumi after 4pm to bike with rent-a-bikes. I have a fear we would need credit cards to rent them, but we will see. With the sun finally setting, Gohar said what a wonderful view it was. I agreed, even though I felt like the sun was saying “I’ll get you again tomorrow, kiddies”.

We headed home and I decided to wash my sand filled hair. It made me realize how badly my face had burned as well and Gohar and I kept saying “tomorrow is another day”.

Observations: all Georgians have blue eyes.