Finally some inside shots of our new home. I never really had my act together with before and after pictures, but I’ve managed a few below. We try to do the maximum “cheering up” of the home around the dreaded Drexel, government-issued furniture, with the minimal amount of stuff. A few scatter cushions, flowers, rugs and plants….Here’s the final attempt at making the new house our new home:
I’ve been making traditional Christmas pudding from scratch for years. I can’t say I have never missed a year as holidays been pretty upside down at times, so there’s probably been a couple of occasions over the last 25 years when I haven’t. But mostly, I’ve somehow managed to pull it off.
What’s interesting to me is what I can/can’t get in the different places that we’ve lived. There are so many ingredients in a Christmas pudding recipe that its pretty certain wherever I am (except for the UK) you can’t get something…so you have to leave it out, find a substitute or make it yourself.
Here in Kathmandu, the issue was Guinness and lard. I’d put money on the fact that you can get Guinness somewhere around here but I didn’t have the time to go look, so I substituted Tuborg Gold that we had in the fridge and added a tablespoon of molasses for colour. Lard was another problem. I’ve made it myself before from scratch in the States (where you can’t get in over the counter) but that was by rendering beef fat. Here cows wander the streets, not the butcher shops, so the only feasible substitute was mutton fat. My Didi (helper) headed out to find my enough mutton fat to do the job and I showed her how to render it in the oven to make lard. Its a bit icky and a whole other story, but if you’re interested you can read about it here. She did a good job. After a couple of hours we had more than enough fresh lard to make Christmas puddings for the next five years.
Why lard you ask? Lard gives a much lighter, less greasy pudding. I’ve tried it with butter before, but butter is no substitute. It gives a heavy, greasy pudding. It has to be lard.
Most of the work is in gathering the ingredients. Once you have them its just a matter of mixing them all together and then boiling the mixture in a pudding dish for eight hours. If anyone is interested in the actual recipe, I’ll include it at the bottom.
The mixed ingredients go into a greased glass or china bowl. An aluminum “hat” is tied on and the bowl is placed in about 3 inches of water on a trivet in a large saucepan. Steam for eight hours.
After its cooled down, remove the aluminum hat and replace it with a new, clean one. Store in a cool place until Christmas Day. To serve, steam again for 3-4 hrs.
Christmas Pudding ( by Delia Smith)
4oz shredded suet
2oz self-raising flour, sifted
4oz fresh, white breadcrumbs,
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1/4 level teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch ground cinnamon
8oz soft, dark brown sugar
1oz mixed candied peel (I substitute marmalade)
1oz almonds, skinned and chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
grated zest and juice of one orange
grated zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons rum
2 oz guinness or stout
2 large eggs
In complete contrast to the previous years in Manila, where the festivities start in September, Christmas in Kathmandu is a low key event. A very, very low key event. And, in truth, I wasn’t really expecting much nor was really that concerned about its absence. I’ve become very “bah-humbug-ish” in recent years. I like the time off, time with friends and family and the pretty lights, but I get very fed up with the commercialism, endless Christmas carols and pressure of the holidays that we’re usually subjected to. We’ve kept things very simple for years, despite Manila’s best attempt at coercing us otherwise.
Its my first time spending the Christmas season in a non-Christian country. Considering how many different places we’ve lived, I’m surprised that’s true…but it is. We’ve also just been through a season of festivities here with the big Nepali holidays of Dashian and Tihar, so its not as though we haven’t had our share of colourful lights, traditions and disrupted schedules.
But, despite my holiday grouchiness, there is something to be said for one’s own traditions and keeping them alive. I’ve always done some holiday baking/sugarcraft work to help kick in the season, planning and making an elaborate Christmas cake every year for my Dad. But after he died, no-one else I knew would eat fruit cake, so sadly that tradition ended. But as Latham got older, we did holiday baking together or we would take on some decorating project for the tree. This was easy to continue in Manila because of all of the Christmas madness, plus Robert’s very large staff and the continual round of Christmas parties. We managed a Christmas cake and Cupcake Tree, which were works of art….even if I say so myself. But…wow….tropical humidity and sugarcraft do not mix. I did not take photos of the cakes on display outside at the poolside Christmas parties, but sugar paste sweats and wilts almost as fast as ice…it was a mess. I think I would have found an alternative medium if I had spend a third year there. There’s just no way to work with sugarcraft in that humidity.
So here in a cooler, humidity-free Kathmandu December, what to make and who to make it for? I’m not even sure that there will be Christmas parties at work? I’m very much looking forward to having Latham and my niece arrive next week and I’m sure they’ll eat some Christmas cookies. I’m definitely going to make a Christmas pudding (more on that later) and some mince pies now that I’ve figured out how to get the ingredients..and perhaps I can manage some cupcakes for work.. but if I don’t start soon there won’t be time to do anything. So heading to the kitchen to try and get this Christmas thing going…
Amid all the dusty, noisy craziness of Kathmandu, after three months of living here, it still surprises me when I come upon ancient corners of the city like Patan Dhurbar Square. Suddenly you are in a whole different world of ornate temples and incredible architecture mixed in with every day life, pigeons, cows and — disappointingly — even motorcycles, which seem to sneak inside without repercussions. The greater Kathmandu area has three Dhurbar Squares, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I had visited the other two in Bhaktapur and central Kathmandu, but until last week I hadn’t made it to Dhurbar Square in Patan.
It was a Sunday and it was crowded. We edged through the masses en route to an official opening of the Royal Palace restoration. Stepping through the ancient wooden doors with our invitation, it was a different world yet again, this time without the crowds.
The US Embassy has donated over a million dollars towards the restoration of the old palace and a fantastic job was done to bring this classic Newari architecture back from ruins. Much of the palace dates back to the 17th century and along with the destructive effects of time and pollution, the Royal Palace has suffered damage from two major earthquakes that left parts of the palace in ruins.
In the rear, behind the Palace buildings, is a courtyard still undergoing restorations including Tusa Hiti, a restored 17th-century step well. It was amazing to walk around through the ancient grounds, which were peaceful and quiet with the craziness of Patan Dhurbar Square just a few feet away.
Although some restoration is still ongoing, its wonderful to know the main work that has been done to preserve this amazing architecture and that it is open up to the public so Nepalis and foreign visitors can enjoy this amazing place.
The part I really love about my new job is the opportunity to meet with Nepalis and see new and exciting developments in the country. Alternative energy has great development potential in a country with many sunny days and plenty of raging rivers. I had no idea that there was a eco-school near Kathmandu, Vajra Academy, that runs solar cookers for the kids from an elaborate solar system on the roof. They also have an organic garden as a real source of their food, recycling programs, a couple of dairy cows, and an academic and practical sustainability program built into their curriculum.
I wish I had longer to view all the other initiatives at the school. But I was there to pick up a three-man eco-rock band from New York, who had been sponsored by the academy during their first solar trek in Nepal. I was taking them to meet the kids at a couple of Kathmandu schools where they could play music, demonstrate portable solar energy devices and share the potential of a solar powered future in Nepal.
Nepal has a lot of environmental challenges. Its easy to see the problems: pollution, deforestation, garbage, litter, water pollution… But this was a sincere attempt to touch a nerve with Nepal’s future generation. Hopefully, everyone took away a little taste of the country’s potential for clean, renewable energy. And, hopefully, somewhere in the audiences that day, were one of two individuals who would grow up take a lead in the environmental solutions that this country so desperately needs. A fun and meaningful day!
Some days when I go to plug something in you can hear some pretty choice four letter words ring through the house! Yet again, someone has removed the only adapter that will run my laptop/hairdryer/whatever from the chosen socket. I keep buying more….but there’s never, ever enough! All I want to do is dry my hair and I have to go through an IQ test of adapter puzzle pieces and there’s always one missing!
Basically here’s the problem:
Here in Nepal we have our own, very original, socket design. No, that’s not a British pin configuration….the holes are round. To add to this… the Nepali sockets come in two sizes: small and large. I guarantee that no plug adapter that you own comes with a round three-pin choice. I know ours doesn’t. No problem. You can buy them on the local market.
Of course we make the Nepalese power socket confusion a lot worse by adding our own variety of world plugs into the mix:
We won’t even get into the necessary colour-coding required not to blow up our 110v devices in 220v power sockets:
So let’s take the example of this very laptop which is — fortunately– dual voltage so you can forget about the need for orange or green tags. Much more relevant here is that the laptop has an American three-prong grounded plug. THE worst offender of the bunch. Of course from a safety point of view that isn’t true….but from a “how the f**k am I going to plug this in?” perspective…its a nightmare. Let me explain:
To date, I have only managed to fry one device: a 110v Cuisinart mini-blender with no green tag that met its demise in a 220v socket only days after Amazon delivered it. (Gotta have the tag!) But I was recently talking about kitchen appliances with FS friends where we were agreed that buying cheap appliances is a waste of money. They don’t work well and break in five minutes. But when you invest hundreds of dollars in a quality blender that will last forever, you need to remember that “forever” may come sooner than you think if someone (most vulnerably household help) absentmindedly plugs the darn thing in the wrong hole. Of course, the odds go down here in Nepal because someone has already taken the friggin’ adapter anyway!
Sometimes I think that if you blindfolded me and put me in a Star Trek transporter to an unknown natural destination, deprived of giveaway clues like language, I could still tell which country I was in my the smells and sights of nature around me. Certain smells like mandarin oranges remind me of childhood Christmases, smells can be so evocative or time and space and memory.
For me the smell of newly cut grass, marigolds, annual flowerbeds and roses are the England I knew when I was growing up. Here is Nepal all of these are everywhere, looking very English and completely foreign all at the same time as they mix in with some very Nepali surroundings.
In fact if was dropped blindfolded in a Nepali garden, I might have a really hard time figuring out where I was at all. Its all here…everything…from so many different places I have lived:
And yet the Himalayas and Hertfordshire are not the only mix I see. Let me explain about the Greek contingent going here too:
And before you think that Nepalese gardens are very European…let me shake it up a bit by introducing The Philippines into the mix:
And finally, just for good measure, a little North American Fall and Christmas….
Is there anything that DOESN’T grow here ?!!