Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Making of Oat Milk!

From all dairy-based alternatives, almond has always been my favourite. Rice is too sweet, coconut too rich/creamy for everyday use, and I tend not to enjoy soy on its own. Almond is smooth, fresh, goes with anything, and is easily made at home.

It became my staple in Canada and Armenia. I wrote a blog post on how to make it and the only real factor you had to take into account was to soak the almonds overnight to make sure the blending would go as smoothly as possible. Almonds are also a bit expensive--both in Canada and Armenia, but I didn't make it all the time so all was well in life and love.

Then, recently, oat milk was introduced to me. I had heard of it before but had never tried it or attempted to learn how to make it. After really enjoying the taste of a homemade version, I could not believe how easy it was to make. What sold me was the fact that you only had to soak the oats for 20 minutes before making it, so I could make it anytime to fulfill any craving. Plus, oats are super cheap in both Armenia and Canada, and as long as you avoid processed ones and find steel cut oats, they are a healthy alternative too. Remember, you can always easily add flavours, so you don't need to buy any with added sugar (or salt, or preservatives, etc.).

So with a pitcher full of delicious and creamy oat milk ready in my fridge, here is how you, little blog baby, can also make it:

Soak your oats! Put at least a cup of them in a bowl, and don't worry about rinsing cause you will do that before blending since soaked oats become a little slimy:
Just a note, in Gumi Shuga you can find great oats in bulk, but that area was closed when I wanted more, so I bought it from the supermarket, and they had Russian options organized based on whether they were targeting men, women, or families. Russian Hercules it was:
Usually, as a result of my short attention span, I would leave the oats for much longer than 20 minutes, but this time it was just about that amount of time, and they were perfectly fluffy and ready for what lied ahead. Just put them in a strainer or mesh cloth and give them a rinse:
Once you rinse them off, add them to your blender, and put as much water as you like. Less will always make it more creamy, but for this amount I filled the blender up and the results were delicious:
Blend, but not for too long. With almond milk, the goal is to really pulverize the almonds and get as much milk as possible, but oats are much simpler to blend, so after about 20 or 30 seconds, you can stop. Then you just have to strain it:
Once you finish straining, you can keep the oat residue/pulp with all of its fibre and use it in some baked dessert. We will use ours in an apple crumble recipe! Mmm.

Now you can get creative. You can have the milk like this and be done. Or, you can add some flavour to it. We opted for cinnamon, maple syrup (represent!) and a touch of salt. You can just add the milk to the blender with your ingredients and blend again:
The results? Delicious, creamy, and just the right amount of sweetness! You can use this on its own, in a fancy chai recipe, in your coffee, or anywhere else you would use milk! Just give it a little stir before using it.

Photo Credit: Björn (except the horribly lit ones...I am no photographer.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day Trip to the Byurakan/Բյուրական Astrophysical Observatory!

Last Saturday everyone and their mothers (literally in Laurie's case) were heading to what looked like a great event in Gyumri. However, Shant, Björn and I opted for a trip to Byurakan village instead with a possible side trip to Amberd fortress. (All photos that were taken with Björn's camera are currently MIA, so I had to use the few Shant took and some from the Internet.)

We left around 11:30 to make it to Kilikia Bus Station, which actually does have a number to call and check schedules, but since we had no set plan, we decided to roll with it. As soon as we arrived, we began asking drivers about any buses that would go near the village or to Aragats and one driver pointed out a large bus in the back that clearly read (in Armenian and English): Byurakan/Բյուրական. He then proudly exclaimed he was in fact the driver and told us the bus would be leaving at one, so we had 15 to 20 minutes. Björn looked at his watch and noted to me the time was 12:20. I repeated that to the bus driver and he then said, "Oh okay, more than 20 minutes". You can't fool a German when it comes to punctuality.
Kilikia Bus Station (www.panoramio.com)
We played with a confidently hungry dog until boarding and the bus driver let us know the base of Aragats was actually quite far from Byurakan, as well as Amberd. We took his advice and opted to stay and explore Byurakan village and see the observatory instead. All three of us had heard of the observatory but I knew friends who tried to go and were not able too for reasons I didn't remember.

We boarded the bus and Björn mentioned that among his travels to many different countries, it was only in Armenia he noticed that those with a seat automatically (sometimes forcefully) would take any bags or belongings from passengers who were left standing. Solidarity. Soon the bus filled up and Shant and Björn did the obligatory back-and-forth of asking the women to sit while I enjoyed the perks of being a woman in Armenia. I did offer an older woman my seat, but she said she would soon get off, which was a lie as she got off at the same spot as I did, about an hour later.
Our bus kind of looked like this (www.panoramio.com/)
We arrived and asked the driver about where the observatory was, and he said we had passed it but we could just walk back. The weather kept switching from sunny to cloudy but it was a great day with fresh air and the first one without rain in a week. We were all sort of hungry by that point and stopped by most shops on the way looking for something special. We ended up with bread and sunflower seeds. 

After about a 20 minute walk following in the footsteps of cows, we saw the sign pointing to the observatory and became super excited, not knowing what to expect. There was a small office-type stand with one person inside we asked all of our questions to. He said we could visit the observatory but it had to be with a guide who he would call. About 15 minutes later, which included a brief episode of hail, an older man in a sweater vest showed up, who was very quiet and seemed a bit distracted. A few moments later he deeply (from his heart) apologized for being late, and seemed really stressed by this. Being apologized to in Armenia for someone being late was definitely a welcome first, although in this case, it was completely unnecessary. He lightened up a lot after relieving his tortured conscience. 

Our guide walked us on the path, and we all noticed how extremely beautiful it was. Yerevan's botanical garden had nothing on this place. Full of trees and greenery, with an incredible view of Mount Ararat and quaint paths, it was only made better when we could spot all the cute observatories hidden within the trees. 
Photo by Shant Kerbabian
Our guide began to tell us about the founder, Viktor Hambardzumyan, and stories along the way and you could immediately see how passionate he was about this place. There used to be many workers (40-50) but now there were only five. He said interest in the place was declining, even with schools no longer including the observatory in their educational day trip programs. He also mentioned that when it came to the observatory, the government never seemed to have enough money, but would give it to many other "useless" programs. For this reason, many of the workers he mentioned left the observatory or went abroad to find sustainable work.
Viktor Hambardzumyan (www.armenian-history.com)
He showed us the area technically owned by Russia (St. Petersburg) and told us we could go into the large observatory and he would present a slideshow to us. We soon realized this man was not actually an official guide--as they were all in Yerevan on the weekends, but a scientist. It made sense with how passionate and knowledgeable he was, coupled with his extremely nerdy science jokes that really made him laugh with all three of us nervously chuckling--worrying we didn't get it.

We took the stairs to the top with him pointing out the areas that needed renovations, and the view was even more beautiful from there. We went inside the slanted door that made you feel like you did not know how to walk straight, and he showed us the actual telescope through the glass. After explaining how it worked, he began the slideshow, where we could see the images of stars or galaxies discovered from that specific location, with our guide/scientist getting very excited and making more jokes. 
Photo by Shant Kerbabian
When he finished, we walked out with him telling us more stories and I noticed he had a cute habit of stopping in his steps to emphasize on a point or tell a little anecdote. He did this once telling us about the time a plane had to bring the glass for the telescope and the car that had to drive it all the way up the road to the observatory, giggled about it, and then just stopped talking and resumed walking.

At the end of the tour, we asked to take a photo and he became very shy and nervous, saying he had his umbrella in his hand, and then making sure Ararat was in the background. While we got our photo, it is unfortunately missing along with all of Björn's lost photos. 

He made sure we knew how to get back to Yerevan, and then explained it a few more times to really make sure and we thanked him, gave him the 3000 dram the person in the office told us it would cost, and he apologized saying that they used to never charge for tours, but that it unfortunately became necessary. 

We opted to hitchhike back to Yerevan, but first noticed small stands on the side of the road with all sorts of foods and fruits. I was specifically looking for sea buckthorn juice to complete my three-week long dream of having a shot every morning, but did not find it. Shant bought some delicious treats, like soujoukh (dried grape preserves around walnuts) and alani (dried peach stuffed with walnuts and honey), and we played with some cute dogs before making the effort to get a ride.
Delicious alani (www.pinterest.com/pin/463589355364787908/)
We were soon picked up by a nice man named Larig, who asked us where we went, and then gave us his phone number and told us to call him next time so he could drive us, for free, to Amberd fortress and Aragats (which were apparently very close) and to the beautiful local church. He drove us until he had to make a left and we thanked him and tried for ride #2. It was a good day and we were soon picked up by a father-son duo, with the father having a very raspy voice Björn enjoyed, and told us we all looked familiar and that he thought he had picked us up before. He then told me he had seen me on TV, which I decided to take as a compliment for reasons unknown. The son, Zorro (short for Zohrab) was meeting his girlfriend in Yerevan but told his grandmother who lived there he was coming for work. Tsk tsk. He then had to stop by a shop to get something from someone and apologized to us. When he returned empty handed, he looked at Björn and said "this is why I like Germans. They are true to their word unlike Armenians". They took another route to meet the mystery man and soon we were on our way.

They took us most of the way and then told us they would drop us off before going in a different direction. Zorro kept saying "I invite you to a taxi", which I knew meant he was saying he would pay and we told him we were happy finding another ride or taking a mashootka. He seemed legitimately offended and repeated that he was "inviting us" to a taxi and seemed to have his mind set on this. Shant didn't think he meant he would pay, but I did, and when the taxi arrived, he handed the driver money and told him to take us to the centre. We of course objected repeatedly but he said it was done and then gave us his number to call in the future whenever we would return. 

The taxi driver noticed Björn right away (blonde) and showed off some limited German, and then asked me about winter in Canada. We then confirmed that the Khinkali place on Tumanyan did have the mushroom option and decided to celebrate a good and educational day there. Mmm...khinkali.