Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summertime=Raw Vegan Pie Time!

Last year for my birthday, my friends bought me an amazing blender. This year, they bought me a food processor cause they are too cute. It was bittersweet only in the sense that I can now never say "I would make that...if only I had a food processor". The time of no more excuses has finally come.

When I went to Canada this year, I made a delicious raw vegan dessert, which was probably the first one I ever made without a recipe. It was essentially a chocolate mousse pie. It was so delicious that I made sure to be extra annoying and message my friends in Armenia about it, and of course added my 'I would make it for you guys...if only I had a food processor" line. While the raw cacao powder will have to be via Canada, I realized I can now officially make this in Armenia. Here is the one I made in Canada, which will soon have its Armenian debut (I have no choice).

What you need for the crust:
-Cinnamon powder (optional)
-Coconut oil (optional)
-Process the almonds alone until they become a coarse powder. The goal isn't to make almond flour here, unless that's what you're into:
-Next add the dates (after removing their seeds) and some salt, and you can add the cinnamon powder and the coconut oil as well here. Process all together until it becomes a sticky mixture.
-Flatten it on top of a large pie plate and set it in the fridge to cool.

What you need for the mousse:
-Dates (seeds removed and soaked, for 30 minutes - 1 hour). Keep the liquid they were soaked in!
-Raw cacao powder
-Raw almond butter
-Vanilla or almond extract
(the coconut oil was not included, I just apparently forgot it in the picture)
-Add all ingredients to the food processor, adding more or less depending on what flavour(s) you prefer. Keep the date-liquid handy in order to smooth the consistency out while simultaneously adding more flavour.
Remove the mousse from the food processor, add it directly on top of the almond/date crust and done! Sprinkle on some coconut flakes and cover it, and place it back it the fridge so you can enjoy it cooled. It was delicious and you can add different flavours/toppings to personalize it. You can substitute raw hazelnut butter for the almond to mimic (a much healthier) nutella, for example.
Everyone should be grateful I never wanted to be a photographer
A nice protein-kick and also super-easy to digest due to it being raw, which makes it even more ideal for the summertime! Now to find/make these ingredients in Armenia...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Holiday of Vartavar (Վարդավառ)

Spain has its Tomatina tomato-throwing festival, and Armenia has its nation-wide water fight, known as Vartavar (the festival of roses). Here is a video, featuring some good friends, that provides a glimpse into what the day is like:
I arrived in Armenia in late August 2011, so I had missed the festival of Vartavar, which takes place in July. It was explained to me, on a day I was complaining about the heat, as a nation-wide water fight, where the most popular vessel for carrying/throwing the water are old-fashioned buckets. It sounded cute and I was disappointed to have missed it.

Fast-forward almost a year later and I found myself still in Armenia, and July had officially arrived. About a week before the festival, I realized I would get to experience it. The warnings from local friends and friends who had experienced it were simply not to carry any electronics with you as no mercy is shown on that day. Simple enough.

On that day, in July of 2012, I casually left my apartment around noon with my room mate to eat lunch at a Lebanese restaurant that had just opened up. I remember assuming we would be attacked the moment we left our apartment, and was almost disappointed that we could leave the backyard of our apartment without any drama. I commented on that to my room mate. About 1 minute later, I was completely startled by a powerful force. I was officially drenched. It had come from above. I looked up to see a nene/tatik cackling while holding an empty bucket, while the drops still continued to fall down on my confused face. It had begun.

On the maybe 15 minute walk to the restaurant, bucket after bucket splashed us with water, to the point where we could just not get any wetter so it almost became frustrating. Groups of (usually) boys and men would surround us, each making sure to splash us relentlessly. I slipped and stubbed my toe trying to escape one particular attack. I didn't get re-drenched but I would have taken that over limping for the next few days. We stubbornly continued our way to the restaurant, realizing now that we probably wouldn't be allowed in since we were soaking and it was a place we planned to sit down in. Escaping more water-up-the-nose was worth the try. The workers had no problem and we had a delicious Lebanese lunch, completely soaked. I realized then I had no idea what the story behind Vartavar was, and would soon discover, because of a translation job, it had many possible roots.

One of the explanations behind Vartavar comes from the pagan Armenian god of water, love, and fertility, Astghik. According to ancient legend, Astghik spread love to the people by sprinkling water, infused with rose petals, on them, and also gave roses as gifts. Being splashed with the water was seen to be cleansing. Different regions in Armenia celebrate it differently, and there are many church services involved, but it is most recognized by the water-pouring aspect. Some people also claim that the holiday is connected with the story of Noah's Ark - and that when it landed on Mount Ararat, Noah and his family came out of the boat, and Noah told his children to splash water on each other as a reminder of the flood. The explanation I like best is the one connected with the time being associated with agricultural abundance, so Vartavar was essentially a prelude to the harvest.

Whatever the story behind it may be, I find Vartavar to be one of those holidays that are so much better in theory than in practice. Being splashed on a humid day, all day, with everyone--regardless of age, sounded so cute. However, it tends to be an excuse for boys and men to harass and touch women in ways that would simply not slide on any other day of the year. The buckets of water tend to be focused on the chest regions too of course. I have some female friends who refuse to participate because of their experiences, and others who leave home ready to combat and splash-attack back.

This year the holiday falls on my birthday, and I haven't decided whether a mini-trip to Sevan Lake for the day or staying in Yerevan would be best, but, regardless, when the first bucket hits my unsuspecting face*, I will choose to focus on Vartavar as a cleansing holiday focused on abundance (screw fertility).


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adventures in Dilijan (Դիլիջան) & Sevan (Սեւան) Part 2/2!

To catch up and read part 1/2, click here!

We make it back down to find Aram and Garegin waiting for us, saying they were worried. Garegin is now shirtless and happier than ever. We see the Dilijan spring water and decide to wash off and fill our bottles and Aram and Garegin follow suit. Aram sees the mint in my hand and asks me if I know what it is. I say nane and he is impressed. He asks what I will do with it and I tell him about my water-infusion and he is less impressed and asks me if I know what spas is. I say yes and that it is madzounov abour (yogurt-based soup) and he tells me that I am an iskakan hay (a real Armenian). BFF. We say our goodbye to Aram and Garegin puts his shirt back on for a picture of the good times:
Garegin drives us back constantly saying he will take us to Sevan and then to Yerevan and we keep refusing saying that the mashootka is fine with us. On the way to the station he tells us that the road we are on used to  be inhabited by mostly Russians but that they all left, and that most of his 5 children are also in Russia, but that he did not want to leave. We get back to the station around 2:45 and since we have about an hour to spare, decide to walk around the city a bit. But then we notice a mashootka with the "Yerevan" sign on it almost full. We ask the passengers and they say it is leaving at 3pm so we should get on. We laugh at the inconsistency (we were told repeatedly there was only one at 1pm and 4pm) and get onto the women-forbidden front seats happily realizing we will have more time in Sevan now. The driver is grumpy and not impressed with us sitting there but we don't care. We (by which I mean me) decide to fuel on some sugary chocolate while waiting for our driver to finish cigarette # 3 and Laura of course catches me attempting to inhale an entire wafer in one bite:
Operation Wafer was a success
The driver gets in and when we hit the road my sister and I ask if we can be dropped off near Sevan Lake and he agrees. About two minutes into our drive the mashootka officially breaks down. I have always felt like every mashootka I've ever been on was on the verge of breaking down, but this time it actually happened. We are told the mashootka meant for 4pm will now leave to make up for this one, and those on the 4pm mashootka should get off and that there will be one for them that will still leave at 4pm. A couple of the 4pm-ers decided to try and get on our already-packed mashootka and steal our front seats and the women who were on our broken down mashootka fully shamed them saying that they were our seats. I had no idea mashootkas could have so much order to them. The men didn't budge and avoided making eye contact with us (our angry Armenian eyebrows were in full effect) but eventually the driver told them to get off and go on their designated bus. We sat back in our front seats with a much friendlier driver. We got off after a smooth ride near Sevan Lake and confirmed that although there were no more mashootkas coming from Dilijan to Yerevan, there was one from Ijevan that should pass by Sevan around 6pm and head to Yerevan. We felt this was just enough time.

I took my sister to Sevanavank to see the churches and for the view since it was way too cold to swim in the lake. She was pleased:

We walked around the area, went inside one of the churches that had a sign banning casual gear, sunglasses on heads and talking. We failed at every rule and then realized it was an old rule sheet. The images were cute though but we decided to respect one of the rules and not take photos. Instead we went back outside to enjoy the view.
Siblings in Sevan, represent.
I wanted to get a nice shot of the view & also got Laura being deep. Win-win.
We of course lose track of time and realize we need to head back to the bus stop to make it there for 6pm. All together, about 15 taxis, cars and buses stopped on one of the busiest streets to tell us they could take us wherever we want so we don't wait for a mashootka. The cars filled with 4-5 men are the most frequent ones and keep stopping in the middle of traffic to try and convince us there are for sure no more mashootkas heading to Yerevan and that we should snuggle in their packed cars with them. We refuse deciding to put all our faith in this mashootka. They are persistent but we stay strong.

Around 6:15 we begin questioning everything we ever believed to be true and a car stops again with a bunch of young men saying they can take us to Yerevan and that it is way too late for a mashootka to come. While they are being dramatic and acting like we will die waiting for nothing, I see the IJEVAN-YEREVAN sign on a mashootka heading our way and we signal to it like maniacs and run to meet it, not having time to be all "DESAR?!" (You see?!) to the car. We get on and the driver pulls out two stools for us to sit on since it is full, and my sister and I mentally high-five each other for deciding to believe in this mashootka. We keep our satisfied grins on all the way back home from a fun and slightly hectic day in Dilijan and Sevan!

Georgia, we are coming for you next, baby.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adventures in Dilijan (Դիլիջան) & Sevan (Սեւան) Part 1/2!

Part one of two.

One of the many reasons it is amazing when a sibling visits you (care-packages from the parents, woo!), is having a legitimate excuse to get into tour-guide mode and get out of the hot and busy city.

My sister's name is Laura and she is one year older than me. My parents preferred me even before I was born:
In my parent's defense, I was born with a mohawk \m/
She came to Armenia in for a few weeks in 2007 when it was just a wee baby and finally decided to see what that baby was up to and come for just under 2 weeks. We made a cute schedule and included "HIKE" dramatically for a Friday. We settled on doing this in Dilijan and then heading to Sevan and Lake Sevan before going back to Yerevan. We set our alarm clocks and wrote down some options for the Dilijan hike before becoming overwhelmed and sleeping instead with a "we will figure it all out tomorrow" attitude.

We woke up late, became hectic and opted for a taxi to get to the bus station rather than take the 259 bus. My sister kept pestering me about getting there "on time" and I had to keep reminding her that we would only leave once the mashootka was full, which she wasn't understanding. She was imagining organized schedules where there were set times, enough seats for everyone, where people would just open the windows automatically and all that bourgeoisie nonsense. We got there at 9:53 and there were about 6 empty seats left and some of the people had been there for about 30 minutes more than us, so I gave my sister a condescending "told ya" eyebrow raise and I hope she understood VS thinking I was being creepy. An older woman on the bus complained to everyone on the mashootka about it not leaving except to the driver and I felt like this was symbolic of the human condition.

After a nice drive we arrived in Dilijan about an hour and 20 minutes later. We decided to do a short hike so that we could still have enough time to enjoy Lake Sevan. After once taking 6 hours to complete a 4 hour hike in Dilijan with a group of friends, we decided not to take any chances: The red marker arrows had suddenly stopped and the trail split in two. We chose left when we should have chose right. Made me think of how I always put a USB the wrong side up. Not this time. We confirmed that the last mashootka left Dilijan at 4pm, and then confirmed it again just to be safe.

Garegin introduced himself shortly after we arrived and right away let us know a few hours in Dilijan wouldn't suffice and that we should stay overnight in his family home. I told him that I once stayed overnight in a tent (post-failed hike) and woke up due to a duck fight. He kept pushing for us to go to a tour agency and we kept telling him we were not interested. We asked him about the mini-hike up to Matosavank (Մաթոսավանք) monastery and he agreed to drive us to the bottom of the hill so that we could hike up. It was the best option for us since we wanted to be back before 4pm to make sure we would get a seat on the last mashootka. He kept insisting to drive us the entire way up the hike and we kept reminding him that although it will be short, we want to hike. Garegin lets us know he would be back in an hour or so to pick us up and take us back to the station. As we arrived, we saw a mashootka at the bottom of a hill and Aram introduced himself. He brings people from Vanadzor every weekend in the summer to pick mushrooms in Dilijan. He says he will wait at the bottom until we are finished as well.

Right away we notice the bright red arrow markers on the trees and feel confident that the "wrong-turn" syndrome will not happen this time. A fly starts to follow Laura and she names him Samvel. The hike gets a little steep and we start worrying about how we will head down. We become too spoiled by the clear red arrows and start taking them for granted, because then we see this:
The dreaded double-sided arrow. Why? 50/50 USB stick decision time again. I begin to have flashbacks of the previous hike where we just kept on heading up, further and further through the thick forest, being too stubborn to acknowledge it was the wrong way.
Our stubbornness documented by me
My sister and I make a choice based on nothing and commit to one way. Shortly after, a villager hanging out asks us if we are trying to go to the monastery and lets us know we are going the wrong way. Every damn time. Soon after heading up the way we should have gone, we see it in the distance and hoped it wasn't a cruel mirage. We document it:
We decide that climbing on top of it first rather than going inside is the ultimate sign of victory and I soon realize that there is a "where's Waldo" aspect to me when I am on top:
Camouflage skills
There is a gate blocking the entrance of the monastery but we lift it out of the way with a no-nonsense attitude we hope would make Patrik the German-Armenian vegan body builder proud somewhere. Being in Armenia for almost 3 years you would think I would be sick of seeing old monasteries by now but I was glad we went inside - it was beautiful from in and out. I tried to do the Jean-Claude Van Damme pose below but it hurt and I thought maybe it was inappropriate so I opted for appropriate:
On the way out I noticed a wonderfully familiar scent. Mint. Everywhere. I became very excited since I had been meaning to plan a herb-picking event in the spring but then forgot or became busy and lost my nettle and dandelion window of opportunity. Not this time. I picked many leaves but avoided pulling the entire plant out and decided a lemon/mint water infusion would be had by all when we returned home.
Laura thought I looked creepy
We decided to have a quick carrot break before heading back down and of course right outside of the monastery were tree trunks meant to be chairs and a rock table between them.
I noticed the villager walking near-by and when we made eye contact he nodded and headed a different way. He came to make sure we got to our destination. We began the descend downwards which was less tiring but much more difficult. We tried to do it crab or penguin style before just deciding to run past the very steep areas. I was extra careful because if my knees get any more scars they will all just connect and become my own personal Quebec (love you Celine).


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Long & Winding Road to Erebuni Fortress (Էրեբունի)

While one of my favourite things about Armenia is how accessible it is in the sense of being able to travel to different regions very cheaply, it's sometimes easy to forget some of the marvels in Yerevan itself.

When my sister came for her 2 week visit, I thought it would be nice to take her to the Erebuni Fortress. The remains/ruins of the ancient Urartu kingdom founded in 782 B.C., it is a very impressive and interesting place--the name Yerevan itself comes from Erebuni. I have been there a few times but still enjoy going and both my sister and Lili were into it.

It's located in south-eastern Yerevan, so about a 1.5 - 2 hour walk from the centre, depending on how often you get lost during the turns you need to make. Since it was a nice sunny day, we opted for the long walk. I put my zinc-oxide sunscreen everywhere but on my nose for reasons unknown, and will have my still-burnt and peeling nose as my hishadag of our little trip.

About halfway there, we saw a lavash shop (Armenian flat bread) where they were baking it fresh and after confirming we were headed in the right direction, one of the workers handed us a freshly baked lavash and told us to enjoy it during our walk. OH WE DID. Reason #458 to walk more:
We finally arrived, sweaty and a little delirious from the strong sun. I remember in my first year in Armenia, while you had to pay to get into the museum, seeing the fortress itself was free. Things have changed and now you pay 1000 drams to have access to both. Still worth it. We decided to go into the museum first to cool off, and I think due to the sun-induced deliriousness, thought it was really funny to start imitating the images we saw. On further reflection, it wasn't:
Nailed it.
Once we were officially told to be quiet by one of the workers there, who also told my sister if she continues to sit on the cold ground she will not be able to have children, we decided it was time venture outside. I really can't explain why I enjoy being in Erebuni so much, but it mostly has to do with being able to walk on top of the ruins and always finding something new to see/read/learn/climb on top of. I've even come there once with Mona just to read. There is also one area where I am scared to jump from one foundation wall to another and it is a little goal of mine to do it every time I am there:
Laura documents my hesitation
There was a great view as usual of the city as well as Ararat and we just jumped from wall to wall and lost each other in the labyrinth-esque trenches. I don't have a picture of that so here is one instead of the walls. Looks like a Banksy piece to me:
We decided to take a mashootka on the way back and that gave us a sense of relaxation to stay longer and explore. There has usually been no one else there when I have gone so there is something very peaceful about being there. Yerevan can be cool too, and Erebuni Fortress is proof of that.
'Sup Yerevan