Friday, December 19, 2014

My 'Seeing Hands' Article Published on The Armenian Weekly!

My article on Seeing Hands, a massage studio in Yerevan that works with blind people, just got published on The Armenian Weekly!

Check it out here!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Warm Winter Dessert!

On Tuesday December 3rd, Yerevan officially had its first snow. In Canada this would never have taken so long, and while it is always pretty in the beginning, I have really enjoyed one of the longest falls I have ever experienced.

Now that it is officially chilly, it is time for teas, soups, and essentially hot things to reign supreme. Goodbye room-temperature chocolate and frozen desserts. But what can we replace these delicious things with?

Cooked/stewed apples. When you are craving something sweet, cooked apples may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but they are surprisingly delicious and super-sweet, as well as a very quick dessert to make (I focus on this because I do not bake).

You can add all the spices and add-ons your heart desires, and include some nutritious ones so you get a dessert that satisfies your sweet tooth (or teeth) and also make it a POWER DESSERT (I'm flexing now).

My favourite mix of spices/add-ons for cooked apples are the following:
-Cardamom pods (not the geghev...never the geghev)
-Cinnamon powder
-Cloves (apparently an acquired taste, but a sophisticated one nonetheless)
-Coconut flakes
-Some nuts or seeds to increase protein content and make it more filling

Just pit and chop up the apples, leaving the peel on since that tends to be where a lot of the nutrients are found. Then put them in a pot or pan, add some water and turn the heat to medium. Stir to make sure the apples soak up the liquid and add more if needed - they should become somewhat soft and mushy but not fall apart. Add all the spices above (go easy on the cloves) except the coconut flakes and let it steep a bit all together and then turn off the heat. You can cover it with a lid and let it cool down.

Serve in a plate or bowl and then add the coconut flakes. I just prefer them a little crunchy rather than soft which is why I add them later. I went with sunflower seeds this time, but any seed/nut would work well too!
After it has cooled down a bit, I sprinkle on some flax seed powder to up the fibre content and get some EFAs.
Action shot!
And there you have it! Warm, delicious, nutritious, vegan, and super easy to make. While others bake their fancy desserts, I will cook my apples and postpone learning how to bake for another day.
Final result!
Fun fact: I used to eat apple seeds and the core like nobody's business when I was young and wild, and then I learned that the seeds actually contain small amounts of cyanide in them. I stopped eating the seeds after that and now wonder if I have a cyanide-resistance thing going on or if I am slowly but surely dying.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Top Three Reasons to Visit Armenia Featured on The Picktures!

My good friend Zofia, aka "the blonde Polish girl who lives in Armenia", has a great travel blog called The Picktures documenting her amazing solo travels around the world.

Much to my luck, she is currently stationed in Yerevan, Armenia! Every Monday, she is featuring a blogger who has lived or is living in Armenia and will include their top three reasons to visit the country.

This week, the Traveling Chamelian was featured and you can find my top three reasons mentioned here - enjoy and make sure to check out her incredible blog!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Like a Local Issue #2: Yerevan is Out!

Like a Local magazine has officially released its second issue, which focuses on my second hometown: Yerevan, Armenia!

The editors contacted a group of writers, photographers, and story-tellers to contribute to the publication and show people who have never been to (or heard of) Yerevan a glimpse of what the city meant to them.

As a result, there are articles on the kissing culture prevalent here, hidden neighbourhoods, the unique subway system, spotlights on cafes and restaurants, photos of Yerevan in the fall and winter, and much more! It also includes an article by yours truly :) I wrote about the shugas, but more as a story with tips rather than article-style like with The Armenian Weekly, so hopefully it isn't too redundant for those keeping up!

So make sure to check out the issue and find out more about ol' Yerevan!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Georgian Bean Dream!

Georgia is the land of spices. Every time I go, I end up coming back to Armenia with bags upon bags of them. The last time I went with my sister and Gohar, I was able to send some back to my mom, and asked her to let me know what she thought of the khmeli-suneli in particular. She wrote me an e-mail about a month later saying she enjoyed the "hirili mirili" that I sent her.

Whereas in Armenia salt and oil tend to reign supreme (love you), in Georgia, especially in the bean and greens dishes I have tried, there tends to be a wonderful mix of a bunch of different spices. After eating one bean stew/soup in Kobuleti, Gohar and I put our foot down and got the names of most of them. It was just too good to remain a secret.
I've failed many times at even resembling those beans I tried, once putting way too much khmeli-suneli and of course inviting friends over for "Georgian food" all pretentiously. It was horribly bitter and we just spent the evening trying to drown out the flavour unsuccessfully.

After going back this year, and trying more bean dishes, I was convinced I could mimic it - again all pretentiously. I bought another round of spices and decided today would be the day.

I used kidney beans, and as is the case with most types of beans, soaking overnight is the key to everything. Unless you enjoy cooking beans for hours upon hours, and still having them left tough, you have to rinse and soak them for at least one night. Beans from the shuga, just like lentils, are very grimy and after rinsing these I swear there was a handful of sand at the bottom of my pot.

When you're young and wild, cooking beans on high heat with no lid seems like the best way to get things done. As you mature, you realize your mom was actually right when she said low-medium heat with the lid on. My mom also always warned me of not giving in to my short attention span and leaving the general kitchen area so I will pass on that warning to all of you as well. This is serious business.

So here are the ingredients you need for this dish and the instructions, broken down!

-2 cups kidney beans (black is traditional)
-1 bunch fresh dill
-1 bunch green onions
-Khmeli-suneli (just don't overdo it, add a little at a time and taste)
-Turmeric (2 tsp)
-Georgian spiced salt (the red one is so good, add it to taste)
-Other greens like spinach or beet leaves (optional) - I used spinach and a loner parsley sprig hiding in the bunch.
-Tahini drizzle (optional)
-Pinch of seeds (optional)

-Cook beans until soft--even mushy. Remember, the reason most people have trouble digesting beans is because they are 70% of the time not cooked well enough. Soft = less problems (don't send me hate mail if you get gas hajis). Use just enough water to fully cover the beans and then some, but it's better to keep a kettle with hot water nearby in case you need to add more. This is meant to be a thick stew-esque dish, not a soup, so better to add water gradually than put too much and end up with stew's arch nemesis: soup.
-Once the beans are soft, lower the heat and add the khmeli-suneli, turmeric and spiced salt.
-Chop up the dill, spring onions and other greens you want to use and add them to the dish and stir.
-Turn off the heat, put the lid back on, and allow everything to mesh together. You can leave the kitchen now.

The dish is now complete in the ways that matter. But add-ons are my specialty and I felt like impressing my room mates because of the horrible version I tried to make the year before. Once I put everything in a bowl, I drizzled on some tahini (calcium power!) and sprinkled on some pumpkin seeds to COMBINE PROTEINS!
It smelled great and tasted amazing, and it was very similar to the ones I had tried in Georgia, but I think the main difference was the type of bean I used and mine had less liquid in the actual bowl. I will try this again with black beans next time for sure.

This dish got the room mate stamp of approval!
Bean party!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Magnesium Profile!

Magnesium (Mg) is considered to be the "anti-stress" mineral. It relaxes, can eliminate tension and pain, aids in the absorption of calcium and can promote a good night's sleep.

While it is not considered to be a trace mineral, deficiencies are still possible, as magnesium adsorption is decreased when a diet is high in fat, meat, alcohol, caffeine and sugar. As is the case with most minerals, there are a few tell-tale signs of a deficiency, such as irritability, insomnia, muscle twitching, high blood pressure, and so on.

Why is magnesium on my mind? Well, it can also help cure certain types of monthly pains--so this has become personal for me as well (who can guess what I am pretending to be secretive about?).

Magnesium is abundant in many foods such as the dark green veggies, nuts, seeds, cacao, whole grains, and legumes. It is considered to be the "anti-stress" mineral because it is a natural relaxant that relaxes both skeletal and smooth muscles in blood vessels and in our gastrointestinal tract. It's also used as a natural remedy for those with high blood pressure since it dilates blood vessels.

It is often used as a natural sleep-aid, especially for those with racing/anxious thoughts that come right when the lights are off. It doesn't have the standard 'drowsy-for-days' morning hangover like many sleeping pills do, but I have found I get some pretty intense dreams from it that sometimes wake me up anyways--maybe a result of sleeping too deeply. But 80% of the times I have taken it for sleep purposes have ended with a deep sleep and a well rested Lena who doesn't remember if it was Japanese hornets or earwigs attacking her in her sleep again.

And ladies, when many of you crave chocolate during your special demon time of the month, it can actually be your body trying to make you consume magnesium, which is found in high amounts in cacao. It can really reduce the intensity and pain associated with cramps--just aim for dark or raw chocolate, as getting a milk-chocolate sugar-filled candy bar is counter-effective--not only because a lot of the magnesium content is lost during processing, but also because as mentioned above, sugar decreases magnesium absorption.

So for the anxious, the nervous, those who have trouble relaxing before sleeping, as well as those with high blood pressure--always consider incorporating some magnesium-rich foods before taking pills with 80 side-effects, when all your body really needs is to correct a possible deficiency.

While it's magnesium-rich spinach time in Armenia again, I also crave chocolate, and chocolate > spinach every damn time.
This could be you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vegan Fest'14 in Armenia!

I was in Turkey last year right when a friend let me know there was the first Vegan Fest taking place in Yerevan. I couldn't believe my timing, but had enough friends going that at least I would know how it went afterwards.

Apparently there were a lot of apples going around as "vegan food", which is nice, but fell short of course.

This year I realized I would be there for Vegan Fest and as I was translating their event description from Armenian-English for the Facebook page, became very excited as it seemed a lot better organized with many different organizations taking part and there would also be vegan food beyond some fruit.

There was no set schedule, but DiNGO Animal Lovers would be there with dogs available for adoption, Street Workout Armenia would show off their skills, there would be lessons on slack lining by Step Slackliners, a performance of breakdancing, Bicycle + NGO would be there and give free lessons on biking, soaps and other products that were vegan, local and free of animal testing would be available, there would be open yoga classes as well as musical performances. There would also be a few tables dedicated to providing vegan food, including a contest for the best dish. There was mention of a free market I was super excited about since I organized many in Canada, but I did not end up seeing that there.

The motto was "Ընտրիր կյանքը", which is "Choose Life".
Here are some pictures of the second Vegan Fest in Yerevan by Allegra Garabedian (you may notice I am biased towards DiNGO):
I swear the amount of initially scared children who then fell in love with the dogs after confirming they did not bite was heartwarming. 
This was my highlight - nothing else compared to this cutie pie dog eating my ear.
Anahit has already adopted two street dogs, and this dog was making it very difficult to not make that number three.
Breakdancing begins - a bunch of youngsters showed off their skills!
Slack lining lessons - I didn't try this but thought about it a few times before being distracted by the dogs.
Some of the remaining food I forgot to eat!
The event could not be complete without some Einstein quotes translated into Armenian. I thought the guy said I could keep this but was awkwardly mistaken and pretended to be cool about it. Stiff upper lip.
There were a bunch of musical performances and talks from vegetarians, vegans, and raw foodists as well. Compared with what I heard about last year's event, this one seemed to be a great step forward and I hope to see it continue and participate in it as well next year!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The 'Thank You' Post!

It's been over a year since The Traveling Chamelian began, with 53 total posts, so it's time to say thank you to the people who are responsible for it actually existing, which, surprisingly, doesn't include me.

So, here we go...

Thank you Laura Tachdjian, sister from another mister (jokes...kind of), for giving me the idea, somehow convincing me I would be good at it, and being annoyingly good with marketing and creativity where I can't take credit for any of your ideas. She gave me the idea back in the summer of 2013 and kept pestering me with questions like "did you start yet?" to the point it eventually got into my head that I needed to start this blog. Thank you for being annoyingly thoughtful only the way a sister could.
Bub trying to tell Laura she's adopted
Thank you to Sarah Reid, expert blogger of What Smells So Good, where she has way too many delicious vegan and gluten-free recipes. I sent Sarah so many questions so she was on the receiving end of all my anxiety and nervousness and she answered all my questions, with great feedback and suggestions, and I hope you know how helpful and encouraging you were! Thank you.

Thank you to Araz Hajjar, who I sent an idea to not thinking much of it, with unreasonable expectations ("can you make the chameleon do a kissy face AND wink?") and she somehow delivered exactly what I wanted in the design, minus the kissy face, which I am very happy for. Thank you!!

Thank you to Arpine Kozmanyan, my "work" partner in the summer it all began. Arpine and I both did not have normal office jobs, so she would come over in the humidity of the summer, we would sit on my bed and work together. But that work for Arpine ended up being answering all my questions, editing the layout of my blog, and doing it all with amazing red curly hair I still dream about cutting off and making a wig with. Those dreams come less often now, but my gratitude still remains strong - thank you so much my babooshka! Can't wait to be an annoying nene with you.
"Leave me alone", she said. "No", I said.
Thank you Gohar Khachatryan, for being the "go-to" person for everything, and especially for all her encouragement and her convincing me our travel stories were funny enough to include, and basically turning what would have been just a nutrition blog to a travel AND nutrition blog. Also for traveling with me, testing recipes with me, and laughing at my jokes even when they were only kind of funny.
Also for being so cute of course
Thank you to Allegra Garabedian, for reading over everything and always being my official English expert, even though I still think how I pronounce "intestine" is the Canadian way, and not actually incorrect. Thank you also for taking all the pretty pictures, and if I ever forget to credit, you can always tell which pictures are Allegra's since they are actually nice and not blurry like mine. Thank the warlord Astghik I never wanted to be a photographer.
Allegra laughing while I slowly die on the inside
Thank you to Khatchig Mouradian for being the best editor on the planet. His kind words, encouragement, and ideas really made me want to continue writing and he also helped me understand how to write an article VS blog post (remember by original draft haha :).

Thank you to my platonic German wifey, Mona, aka my German manager. Thank you for reminding me to actually do things off my to-do list, for making me smoothies while I worked, for being filled with good ideas for my blog and for being my partner-in-crime! I had German-efficiency withdrawal symptoms when you left ;)
Mona enjoying an Armenian coffee "to go"
It was just this year that I decided to finally be consistent with my blog and aim to update every Wednesday. My original idea was to write whenever I felt like it, but since I am an inconsistent person with thighs of steel, that would mean updating 4x one week and not writing for three months after and thinking this "worked".

This blog is a way for me to channel my excessive talking into writing, which is good for me, and I think everyone around me--especially my poor room mates. It also encourages me to actually document stuff I find interesting so I can share with those reading.

I love seeing what countries people are reading from, and always wondering how that one person in Lithuania found out about my blog, and slowly dying on the inside from curiosity. I love receiving e-mails from people around the world--whether they be about meeting, having suggestions, questions, or just saying hello.

It also encouraged me to get a twitter account, which I never thought I would do. But I stopped updating it about one month in. Some things never change.

So a big thank you to everyone I mentioned above, as well as to everyone who takes the time to read my blog and those who get in touch with me as well.

I am ALWAYS open to suggestions, so please keep e-mailing and letting me know your thoughts!

-Bacheegs from Hayastan! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 5 or "Return Stopover" Part 2/2

We arrived to Tbilisi shortly after and the beer had made the ride all the more enjoyable. I fell asleep in an awkward position and woke up realizing my underwear was in full bloom, but buzz=not feeling too embarrassed. The driver was clearly trying to ask my sister if she and I (but I assume mostly her) would join him for another beer but she somehow got out of that with hand movements and being polite. 

My sister and I head back to the hostel Gohar, her, and I had initially stayed at, only to find out it was all booked. We decided to try the hostel right across the street, by the little Armenian restaurant, and they had two rooms available, so we booked the cheaper one that actually had a much nicer view. We decided to go for a final walk around the city, and dropped by the Armenian restaurant to see if we could come in the morning for a quick coffee. The woman confirmed and we headed out. It wasn't too late but the mashootka ride was taking its toll for sure. We walked for about an hour and a half and headed home to shower and sleep. We noted this, of course:
Who knew smashing patriarchy could be so easy?
We called our Armenian taxi man Arthur and he agreed to pick us up in the morning to take us to the mashootka stop. He then expressed his frustration with us not calling him right away so we could stay with him. He asked us to see if we could get out of the hostel so he could pick us up and his wife could meet us as well - we had already paid but as usual, Armenians have got your back.

We wake up feeling nice and rested, and leave to head to the Armenian restaurant. We order two coffees and drink it with the door open and with a cute huge dog sticking his nose inside but never coming in. My sister and I chat while trying to take in the last bits of the city in and finally ask for the cheque. We thank the wonderful family, tell them we will come back next time we're in the city, and see Arthur outside waiting. He chats with the restaurant-owners and we are on our way, while he gives us some tidbits about Tbilisi before we get to his car:
We arrive to the mashootka stop and when trying to give Arthur the money he refuses and tells us "amot a" (it is shameful). He again tells us that next time we come we must call him right away and arrange to stay in his home. We thank him and get into the mashootka heading to Yerevan. I sit in the front which I am of course annoyingly excited about (A FULL WINDOW TO MYSELF) and my sister sits in the back by a nene who feeds her chocolate and asks her if she will listen to what her future husband says (oh dear). The driver is grumpy and a little cold, but when Paul Baghdadlian is blasted on his mix CD, I can't help but sing along and he turns it up (perhaps to drown me out) and I feel that we begin to bond. 

When we arrive to the Armenian border, while waiting for everyone to get back on the mashootka, the driver asks me if I like Georgia. I say yes and that it is a very beautiful and interesting country, and he goes into full-patriot mode telling me how much better Armenia is, and that even though he lives in Georgia, Armenia will always be his home. I feel the need to interrupt him to tell him that just because I like Georgia, that doesn't mean I do not appreciate Armenia, and he calms down a bit and tells us some history tidbits he knows. Much better, and it was a pleasant and drama-free ride all the way back to our house.

See you next year, Georgia.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 5 or "Return Stopover" Part 1/2

I am the sleepy head today. I slept early the night before and woke up around 9am to Gohar reminding me it was my last day so I should get up. To rebel or not to rebel? I rise. Just like batman in that horribly cheesy dungeon scene. Slightly less dramatic (and cheesy), but same idea.

We head to the beach and it is a bit chilly with thick dark clouds but after the dolphin and possibly shark situation yesterday (according to Laura of course) we can't let a little bit of bad weather stop us. Bingo greets us at the entrance of the house and leads the way. He again gets between his friends and us and doesn't let them come near me and I feel bad for the black grandfather-esque one. He had sad eyes and Bingo was not helping. 

We watch the handsome older lifeguard play with his speed boat and make too much noise for such a dead day. Gohar thinks he is a show-off but I am giving him the benefit of the doubt because I have become an optimist. It begins to rain but we stay predicting where the dark clouds are heading. We sounded pretentious but still convinced each other that we "got" the direction the clouds were heading in. We were clearly wrong and it began pouring so we had to head back to our guesthouse. One last look at handsome older lifeguard, of course.
Silver fox.
My sister and I decide to leave earlier since there is no point in staying if we can't enjoy the outside. Until the mashootka time, I decided to write and listen to music (found Queen on Gohar's computer), my sister went through pictures on her phone and Gohar read her iBook. We are the poster group for "electronics prevent conversations", if people said that of course.

We notice the new phenomenon of reverse belly-tops where just the back is lifted up. I'll post a poll soon so my readers can vote on whether they prefer this over the classic belly-top. The world must know.

My sister and I begin our return to Tbilisi on one of the most dramatic mashootka rides I had ever been on. With speeding, the driver not looking where he should be looking and turning around to shake our hands while driving, and then offering us alcohol way too many times, as well as cigarettes with a weird smile, chocolate (yes, thank you), khatchapouri, and much more. He made a final pitstop and bought chocolate and for reasons unknown, two red bulls for my sister and I and would not take no for an answer. We indulged in the chocolate and said we would have the red bull later. I had no intention of putting that stuff in me, but remembered a friend saying it actually was a high dosage of B-vitamins and started considering it since I was feeling quite groggy, but decided against it cause I thought it would be like coffee TO THE MAX, which scared my anxious soul. I had extra chocolate and was satisfied with my decision. Of course all this communication was done with dramatic hand movements as the driver and us spoke no common language, which made the fact that he was driving very fast all the more frightening. 

He got a phone call and after that tried to explain something to us for the next 20 minutes, but this time, hand movements weren't cutting it. We could understand there was a problem but not why and to what extent. He eventually called a friend who spoke English and she told us that since the mashootka wasn't full, he would drop us off at another stop, give the driver the money we paid him, and we could go with them and we would for sure have seats so he didn't want us to worry. We were fine with that and he forced us to take the box of chocolates with us, which looked a bit awkward on a new (and crowded) mashootka. We fed the people.

Our new driver was much less animated and older, and quickly took a liking to my sister. Again, with no common language, he was reduced to using hand movements, but as he was less animated, it wasn't as easy to understand what he was saying. He drove much slicker than our previous driver and the ride was a nice one. We had what we assumed was supposed to be our first (and last) pee stop, but our driver motioned for my sister and I to leave the bathroom line and directed us into a restaurant. He had ordered a massive spread of food, including two types of khorovadz (barbecued meat), eggplant, salads, khatchapouri, and much more. He motioned for us to sit and my sister and I hoped none of the other passengers saw us and we began to feel elite while trying not to let it get to our heads (it kind of did). He then ordered three large beers and while of course a driver drinking is never a good idea, my sister and I, thirsty and tired, gulped down the cold and refreshing beer and enjoyed every sip while we munched on the platters of food. After about 15 minutes, it was time to head back on the mashootka. I still don't know if the dirty looks I felt everyone was giving us were real or due to me being paranoid all the time.
I will have one more of these right now, thank you.
Part 2/2 will be on the same bat day, bat channel and bat time next week (I really identify with batman).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 4 or “Armenia? Ararat!”

I wake up to pee around 7am and Gohar is already up munching on a delicious Georgian nectarine. I do a double take and realize it is really sunny. If this is the morning, we know it will be a good day. Gohar and I head to beach right away with the intention of not getting burned like last year. Even though it is so early I put on some of the natural sunscreen I bought in Canada (zinc-oxide, represent) and we make plans. We will stay under the sun, swim and dry off a bit and then get an umbrella. The umbrella for the day is 2 lari which is great. The man smiles and asks us where we are from and Gohar says Armenia and he smiles and says “Armenia! Ararat!”. The water seems cooler since we are hotter but I like it. There are no jellyfish this time around so Gohar theorizes that it is still too chilly for them to show themselves. A plastic bag brushes Gohar and she screams and of course “shark” is the only thing that pops into both of our minds. We swim again with ulterior motives I won't mention here (tee hee).
Gohar thinks she's all artsy while we avoid the sun.
My sister comes by and at some point calls to us and says in panic she saw a very big fish or shark in the distance, and as she is saying this, she is running away from her spot on the sand closer to us, which makes us think it is coming up to kill us all. Gohar and I kind of think she is making it up or seeing things and before I can even finish thinking that thought, we see two dolphins way too close to the shore swimming up and down out of the water. I had never seen them so close in natural settings so I was very excited and started screaming out of joy and then realized my sister was screaming but more for telling the little kids swimming near the shore to get out of the water because “where there are dolphins, there are sharks”. I don't know if that is legit yet or not or if she was trying to be dramatic. I realize they were very close to where I was swimming and imagined what it would be like to have them brush against me when I was by myself and then I would look down thinking it was just a plastic bag and then see a huge shadow of a large fish and I don't even know what I would do. I started thinking maybe it was never the plastic bag touching Gohar but a dolphin and by the time we looked down we blamed it on the innocent plastic bag. Sneaky dolphins. My sister laughs about how even though she was not in the water she still “ran away” from the dolphins who were in the water.  
The scene of the "dolphin drama"
Two Georgian men from Tbilisi come by and ask us if they can swim since no one else was swimming and we say of course, and then my sister “warns” them of the dolphins and they say they are also fish so it's all good. When they come out they ask us in Russian what our background is and Gohar says Armenian and he says “Armenia! Ararat!". It's cute I think and it seems diasporans everywhere have clearly gotten that message/connection across. They of course ask us if we like to drink and then if we are married. The “do you like to drink” question is asked all too often here and is our red flag. 

Today Bingo was nowhere to be seen :( We begin a new game of “spot the belly top”. I introduced this interesting Georgian fad in lastyear's blog post, and things have not changed in 2014. Mixed feelings about this always and forever. We saw this sign on the way home:
We decide to eat a full-on Georgian meal today as we all are craving beans/protein. We pick out a cozy looking place and right away ask if they have pkhali, a delicious greens-dish I have tried many times in Georgian restaurants in Yerevan and had to believe it could only be better in the place from where it came. We ordered 3 assuming they were the small round balls we were accustomed to and ordered eggplant, salad and loubiani. 

While we waited some of the workers blasted some wedding-esque poppy Georgian music and let us know the singer won a contest (euro-vision style?). They switched from Georgian to Russian to English, all club-music themed. The waitress arrived with our food and we were in heaven. The pkhali I am used to in Yervean and even Tiflis are usually served as small round balls and I have always ordered them with a group to share, so I never really felt fully satisfied because I love it so much and am reduced to eating only a portion. This was like no other pkhali – it was flat and oval-shaped and huge. I ate it all and for the first time in my life, I did not crave MORE pkhali. 
I love you.
The eggplant was great, the tomatoes and cucumbers were fresh and perfectly ripe, and the lobiani was just right – a mesh of beans with kidney as the star with just enough spices and very little salt in a crispy bread. 
The eggplant and salad had walnuts as well so I kept thinking “protein combining” in my head all slyly.
It was the perfect meal in a perfect spot in a perfect place. We left full and content and headed home to rest a bit before going for a walk with the sun setting. 

Tomorrow my sister and I head back to Tiflis to stay the night and then back to Yerevan since her flight is the next morning while Gohar does the best thing ever and extends. Wish we could too :(

We take an evening walk and sit by the water, and Gohar decides to go in fully clothed and Bingo finally comes out to play with us. 

Update: Pkhali overload. No survivors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 3 or "Lena as an Embarrassing Parent"

Gohar lies and says it is sunny and I confront her about it. We go for a bike ride with the goal of finding the house and talking with the owner. We are there in about 30 mins and will forever rememeber the address after this: 160. We talk about getting it tattooed and are only 85% joking. We find it and see the sweet woman who remembers us and greets us very warmly and tells us to come stay. Our hearts break a bit realizing we are paying the same price for a lot less. Lessons learned always & forever. 

After the bike ride Gohar and I head to the beach – it is cloudy but warm. We lay down and enjoy the few second intervals the sun shows its sexy face. I look up and see the cutie pie Bingo hanging out with a few other dogs nearby and out of excitement I run over to him and yell his name and I realize I would totally be that embarrassing parent who does stuff like that all the time in front of my annoying kid's annoying friends. Bingo growls at the dogs he was hanging out with when they try to come near me and accepts my petting. After I lay down he starts coming for some more lovin' and is so adorable and rolls over on his back and nudges me to continue whenever I stop. Gohar says we are hair colour twins. A husky comes off leash and starts barking and Bingo stays between us barking and when the husky leaves Bingo does not leave our side. He sleeps by us nudging for love every now and then. I realize he has a bad case of the fleas. 
Gohar decides to go in, my sister follows and I do too. It was refreshing and needed. Gohar realizes she got a little burned on the back of her legs. Those seconds of sun did their deed. 
We decide to buy some veggies for a nice lunch and head to the spice market/shuga. But first we see the best advertisement for Georgian bread ever:
Bread is a very serious matter 'round here.
I buy all of the spices of Georgia as usual and get some for my sister to send to my mom and we meet a woman whose son served in the army in Armenia and died when he was 44. She teared up saying he left her all alone. 
We walked through the shuga and Gohar stopped to buy water where a fiery red-headed older woman asked her my life story ("are BOTH her parents Armenian?!") and then took less money for the water and then returned Gohar's money all together telling me (Gohar translated) that Gohar was a good friend. She tells my sister she looks Georgian-Armenian and tells us about her 5 daughters and how she wanted them to have an education first VS getting married. She then tells us that she wants all women to get educations and jobs so they have independence and that daughters will take care of their mothers forever. She worked non-stop to send her kids to school and didnt sleep. Sons are not the same. She tells us to come back the following day to chat more. 

We see a Georgian folk festival in our area that invites people from different counties and there is traditional dance, music and activities. We watch for a bit and meet some Iranian musicians and see the Armenian flag as one of the participants. 
Armenian flag, represent!
Dance my minions!
Then we see a lot of Armenians who say weird things to us. On the way back we talk to the nene and dede of the house and they ask if we are married and when we say no they say “good”. Very different than Armenia! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Syrian Olives in Artsakh: My Fifth Article for The Armenian Weekly!

You can check out my latest article for The Armenian Weekly, about Syrian-Armenian farmers in Artsakh right here!

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 2 or "The Hostel that Got Away"

After a wonderful day and night in Tbilisi, Gohar my sister and I wake up and head straight to the mashootka stop to catch one heading to Kobuleti. We find one that is leaving and get on. This driver only made one pee-stop which we all agreed was quite controversial. We got off in an area that looked familiar to both Gohar and I and my sister realized moments after that she somehow forgot her running shoes on the mashootka. My sister and I talked about running in Armenian and Georgia so much that it only made sense that now we really couldn't do it. Officially. 

With our bags we walked down the main street, with Gohar and I determined to find the wonderful hostel we had stayed at last year, where there were twirly stairs and a praying mantis I still think about. It was such a vivid memory that even though it was a year ago, we knew we would find it. I for sure thought the numbers 2 or 4 or 6 were in the address but Gohar had different numbers in mind. We were not worried though, we remembered the look of it and the gate colour standing out. And that there was a "lavash" (aka Georgian puffy oval bread) shop near by we would definitely recognize. After the long ride and walking for at least an hour in the heat, we could tell that my sister was not really into the "we will know it when we see it" indefinite search Gohar and I were so confident in. We stopped to energize in a cafe and Gohar and I made a deal with my sister that we would just walk a little bit longer and if it wasn't there we would accept defeat. But we would not be happy.

We walked and walked and kept on walking and after my sister pointed out that either Gohar or I would say "OH! This is definitely close, I remember that cement colour/grass patch/tree/view of the sea" every time we thought the hostel was somewhere it wasn't. Gohar and I got to the 100's in street numbers and both of us were so sure it was higher up, so we accepted that we either passed it, it moved/closed, or it never existed at all. We walked back up to another house-hostel we had noticed and I think Gohar and I made a secret-mental pact that we would hate everything because we once knew true love and comfort in our old hostel. About two minutes in, the cutest copper-coloured dog ran to us all and started jumping up and down and licking us and I was almost annoyed at how cute he was because now I couldn't be as filled with hate for the stupid hostel. He looked like a fox and had copper eyelashes and we learned his name was Bingo. Gohar said we were hair twins. 
We unpacked our stuff, Gohar and I complained a little more about the hostel, comparing it to the last one, and then we all decided to get some nectarines, apricots and watermelon. A+ to the first two, and the delicious apricots made me feel sad about that hail-storm that destroyed so many of the apricot trees in Armenia. The watermelon was beautiful but had no taste. Symbolic of the hostel? No it was really not bad at all, just not the one we wanted. While munching away, Gohar and I decided to rent bikes and go down the street again, looking even more carefully and going further down. It was cloudy and windy so swimming was not an option, so what else to do than feed our mini-obsession? We convinced ourselves it would be closure. I could hear my sister's eyes rolling.

We rented our bikes, and there were a few times where Gohar would look at me and I would automatically frown my eyebrows so it looked like I was in serious-search mode, when in reality I was humming a cheesy Paul Baghdadlian song and enjoying the wind. ATTENTION SPAN OF A FRUIT FLY.
♫ ASA ASDVADZ DU MEGHKE MER...INCHOU AYS BES DANJOUM ES MEZ ♫  (different location, same idea)
We biked all the way down the street and thought we found the hostel, but it was too dark to be certain, and we realized it was relatively late and didn't want to knock on the doors and then realize it was a house full of people who slept at socially acceptable times. We memorized the number we had reached which did not have a 2 or a 4 or a 6 in it and headed home. We would find it in the light of day. 

We became restless from this potentially bittersweet discovery and all three of us decided to watch a movie Gohar brought. My sister and Gohar thought it was cute but I was so annoyed by it I began fuming. Every character sucked, there was no development, they threw in one famous comedian to make up for the boring and predictable love-story-cheesefest. Right after I loudly proclaimed my utter hatred of the movie, assuming Gohar and Laura felt the same, and then dealing with the awkward silence that implied they felt otherwise, the characters in the film lip-synched all of 'under pressure' by Queen. I felt there was a lesson to be learned - something about not judging things too early. But the movie still sucked and continued getting worse (spoiler alert: the annoying ones get together DESPITE ALL ODDS). We had sub-titles on since the volume was quite low and I realized how off I was for a lot of the lyrics and was relieved that I hate karaoke.

After a day filled with traveling, searching, disappointment, and a surprisingly high amount of hatred (I am getting annoyed just thinking about the movie now), we decided to call it a night and see what our full day in Kobuleti would bring.