Bhutan, Meditation, Bread, Learning, Friends, Family, Music, Books, MT

Sunday, February 27, 2011


How the Irish police tracked down Prawo Jazdy, a serial offender who had evaded justice with a cunning ploy.

The story is here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mango Lassi

Another bit of our family language was Dr Turner's Health Drink. Dad was known for his culinary skills, having lured mum with his steak and kidney pie. He made her initials out of pastry. I recall mum keeping those for some time. Mum had a super-duper Kenwood mixer. One of the attachments was a mincer, and I remember being fascinated watching the worms spiral out the end. Dad found a use for the blender. He regularly mixed up his so-called health drink. Perhaps dad can give us the recipe. I remember bananas being one essential ingredient, and there was probably a few scoops of ice-cream. I guess the ice-cream was the healthy part!
There is a blender here. Ugyen won in it in a raffle. She used it once to mix up suja, the local blend of tea, butter and salt. Another health drink. However, she did not put the lid on securely and ended up plastering the kitchen and her face with hot suja. She put the blender away and never used it again. I found it covered in dust, and resurrected it to whizz up a rather nice spinach-paneer curry.
I found a recipe for mango lassi recently. It could be made with a blender, but I just use a whisk. It is damn easy to make. Ludup never says no to a glass of Mark's Mango. I love the Bhutanese respect for the aged and infirm.
To make the mango lassi mix yogurt and mango juice in equal quantities. Add a pinch of cardamom, a squeeze of lime juice and whisk away.
Serve in a tall glass with the blue Himalayan sky in the background.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Things I Miss 5

The bottom element in my oven.
Just a few days ago, I was trying out a nice looking recipe from Dan Lepard (he writes for the Guardian) for semolina BBQ buns. The recipe is here. Read the forum for some details from Dan on scoring the tops of the buns. The buns are not separated after cutting and the scoring is done by pushing a butter knife right down to the base.
I let my buns rise for over an hour, but it was quite a cold day. Apparently breads rise faster at altitude. The explanation requires an advanced degree in physics and biology.
After 20 minutes in the oven, the buns looked great. On top. Then I noticed that the underside (the ass ... arse?) was still very moist and not nicely browned like the tops. Had I made the dough too hydrated? After flipping the buns over and baking them longer, they came out quite well. Perhaps not as well-risen as expected.
Then I realised that the bottom rod was not hot. No cozy glow. A cold black. That would explain things. The next problem was the two loaves well and truly risen, and needing a good baking in a hot oven. I used all my mechanical skill to repair the oven. That meant turning it off, waiting a few minutes, then turning it on again. That often works with the computer. Not with the oven. Twiddling the dial to Grill, Toast, Warm and then back to bake had no effect either. I waited more. Patience. That is the solution.
The oven temperature did not get above 150. There were plans to make a visit to Letho at the Ambient Cafe. They have installed a new oven there. Ideal for baking bread. No. In the end, I stuck with my disabled oven. The bread was cooked and edible, but rather flat and insipid.
Yesterday, I took the oven to the appliance store. He was a nice man. Very helpful. The diagnosis was very fast, no need to even plug the thing in. But the news was not good. They did not have any "rods". The last customer that had this problem is still waiting for the part to come.
"How long?"
"We cannot say. It comes from India."
"What .... months, years?"
He took my phone number and wrote some details in his diary. Then he phoned up the supplier. Or was it his mother?
Now, I have a very large toaster that looks like an oven. And I am exploring recipes like Grilled Lebanese Flatbread. See the recipe here.
But I do miss my oven.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For the lard lads

This cannot really go as one of the things that I miss. I cannot even remember if I ever ate it much. Lard comes up in conversation with Matthew. It comes as an adjective for the arses of several Kiwi cricket players. Matthew prefers "arse", but others use "ass". Matthew uses ass for hoofed animal of the horse family. He is not alone.

Anyway, I just came across an article defending lard. Here it is.
That lard is both "healthier" than butter and yet so despised shows the empty logic of the standard position. The fat amply qualifies as "real food", that definition popularised by Michael Pollan as "the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognise as food".

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Things I Miss 4

While I do miss my sister, today's thing is Fish and Chips. And I will include wine too. There is a beer in the photos too, but I was never a big drinker of beer. Besides, we get some decent beers here.
F 'n' C ("Feeshers" in the Turner dialect) is something that I pine for when I get home on Friday and do not feel like cooking. The ability to jump on the bike and ride a few minutes to a supply of something hot and greasy. Not necessarily healthy, and not always that great tasting. But fast, relatively cheap, and filling. There are no fish and chips shops here. You can get fish and chips at some of the restaurants. But who eats fish and chips at a restaurant?
Wine is available too, but it costs the earth. And tastes like it.
The other night I attempted to make my own fish and chips. The chips came out quite well. The fish came from a packet. Frozen. Thin. Lots of crumbs. Not much fish. Two thin rectangles masquerading as two chunks of meaty fish covered in batter. They were pathetic.
Something else is missing here. It is the culture. The shared understanding.
"Two fish, one scoop?" would be met with a blank stare here.
Back home, Matthew would be heading to get his bike to join me.
Note: I stand corrected. The word was "Feeshies" or "Feeshees". Turner Talk was a spoken language, never a written one.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stephen Wolfram and tedious mathematics

There is an article at the Guardian about Stephen Wolfram, the person behind Wolfram|Alpha. Here.

Below is what he says about people losing the ability to perform (tedious) mathematics by hand because now computers do it for them:

 "There was a time when we had to cut feathers to make our own pens. Gradually more levels of civilisation and automation happen, and this is another such layer," he says. "What should happen is that you can build on to what is now automated and do the next level of stuff, where you need to add the human touch." It also cuts both ways since, if calculus is mechanised, this opens up new worlds for students for whom solving problems by hand was too difficult.
And I agree. For the last few days I have been going through the new maths text for class 12 here in Bhutan. The chapter was on something called determinants of matrices. There are 12 rules to learn, and then puzzle how to apply them. It is rather like a game of chess, where you have to see several moves ahead. The problems are made harder by using variables instead of numbers. Why? I waded through twenty worked examples trying to see some pattern in the methods. Trying to see some way to explain to the students how they could work out what to do. Their method is to learn them all by heart.

I shared my thoughts with Don, my Canadian friend. He is a real mathematician. This is what he said:
 "If you are serious about needing the value of a determinant it will be numbers and you do it on a computer. What you are learning is a lost art and it should be! It is a little silly to require people to learn all those rules.

I hope someone from the curriculum division is taking notes!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Things I Miss 3

Mussels. Smoked mussels. Fresh mussels cooked with wine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We've won the World Cup!

Yes, NZ have won the World Cup for one day cricket.
Not exactly won it yet, but ...

Kyle Mills backs Black Caps to peak in India

When you have been at the lowest point ever, a peak is not very high.
A bit like the "low clouds" here being above the highest mountain in NZ.
No, that does not quite match. You know what I mean, don't you?
Good luck to the team, anyway.

Things I Miss 2


Water that just comes when you turn on the tap.
A few years ago, the water was fine. In the weekend, when everyone in the apartment washed clothes, the water would run out. There would be a few hours without running water.
Now, we get an hour when water trickles, and not every day. Yesterday, there was none.
We have to manage things. When we hear the water, we man the buckets. Not all the taps go. In the kitchen, there is a large red bucket. Water gets ferried from the bathroom to the kitchen. Then other buckets are filled up and left in the bathrooms.
Today, the red bucket is nearly empty, and the bathroom ones are all empty. That means trips down to the outside tap. The down is easy. The up four flights with laden buckets is more tiresome.
But we are not as badly off as others. Now, out the window, I see people from other apartment buildings carrying their buckets to the tap at the neighbouring construction site. That tap must have running water.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Things I Miss 1

Another series.
Ashley teaches at the same school as me. She comes from America.
Last I saw her, she was heading down to India, via the border town Phuntsholing.
Astute readers will remember this as the place where I crossed into India on my dash across the plains to Nepal. Nar will remember that trip.
Ashley sent me an email a few weeks ago. She was making a trip back to the States, and would I like anything? A magnanimous offer indeed. It set me on a path of desire.
It is best not to think about what I want, when most is beyond me.
Anyway, here are some of the things I miss.

Going to the mailbox to check for mail. Here, houses do not have them! No people riding around to deliver the mail. At least I don't have to face the disappointment of an empty box.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Anyone for Tea?

We get use to things being done a certain way. Some of us then close our minds to alternatives.
Ugyen was away for a two-week course. Ludup went with her. Deki, Nono and Angay were also away. I was left alone. Alone, but not lonely. One of the things I did was make tea again. The drink.
Tea in Bhutan is made the Indian way, unless it is made the Tibetan way with salt and butter. That means the tea comes with sugar (usually lots) and milk. The milk comes as a white powder with sweetener included. I am not sure that it is milk. It makes the tea white.
It must be the only thing that does not have chili in it.
There is no tea-pot in the house. The tea is made in a big pot, and then transferred to a flask. The leaves get strained out.
Now most of this goes against all the tea-making tradition I was brought up with. So I had to relearn. Not that it was difficult.
I often watched Ugyen making the "tea". She uses her hand to measure things out, then tastes to check. The tea comes out quite pale, very sweet and tasting little of tea. But nice all the same. Like her. Though she is not so pale. She does taste little of tea, and is very sweet!
Luckily, Skye Gyngell, of the Guardian, had an article about cardamom, and one of the recipes was for chai. Perfect! The quantities were given in spoonfuls. I was in my element. Skye Gyngell's recipe for chai. His recipe uses fresh milk.
When Ugyen returned, I decided to surprise her the first morning by making the tea. When she came in to the kitchen and found me boiling the water and tea before adding the milk, she was appalled.
"Take the pot to the kettle, not the kettle to the pot," I tried to cry.
"Don't stew the tea," I pleaded.
"One for each person, and one for the pot."
All to no avail. I was pushed out of the kitchen and Ugyen started shoveling in the dairy whitener.
"We make tea the Indian way," she muttered.
As if tea came from India!
Where did it come from?

This article, India's Passion for Tea, has another story about the meeting of two teas. Plus some interesting facts about the clay pots that tea used to be served in. They have been replaced by disposable plastic cups. And boy, do they make a mess of the ground. You cannot find rubbish bins in India. No need for a bin, just toss it on the ground.

Have a nice cuppa.

Friday, February 4, 2011


My brother Matthew has started his first novel.
After playing with Wolfram|Alpha the other day, I thought I would give it a real test.
First I entered "write novel." Sometimes you just have to try the obvious.
Wolfram failed quite miserably, but I was expecting a bit much. And there was some interesting stuff:

Then I tried again. Spiders can build webs, and I can write a novel for my brother.
This time I was smarter. "write novel for Matthew."
It is going to be a very small book, but could be a real hit ....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Losar

Today is the start of Bhutan's New Year.
Happy Losar to all.
Here is the first line of the Bhutanese year.

You see the Dzongkha script. The red numerals are for holidays.
The observant will notice that both days have the same Bhutanese number (that is a one).
This happens on other days in the calendar. It is something to do with the calendar being based on the moon. I imagine this conversation...
"See you on the 1st, then."
"Oh, which one?"

The first month of the year is auspicious, and so no meat is to be sold. Many people have been stocking up at the meat shops. Meat may not be for sale, but that will not stop them eating it. Interesting that some Buddhists can eat meat.


The following link is especially for Matthew, Keiko, Tomoyo and Hideo. Others may look too.
Extra Sips of Sake.

The next one is for Stephanie and family.
But first, a neat story from David Leite, who puts together Leite's Culinaria...

"My dear friend Roland, who hails from the Dordogne region of France, once told me that his grandmother would make him take a crepe to the chicken coop on La Chandeleur to encourage the Egg Gods to be generous. “You know, the chickens only ate half the crepe,” he said. I leaned in, eager to unravel the uncommon willpower of these French fowl. “Why?” I asked. “Because I ate the other half on the way to the chicken coop,” he laughed."
Now the link: Crepes.

I have not found anything for Martin yet!
Hold on, Martin and Machiko can read How Meditation May Change the Brain.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Neat Software

John Gruber of Daring Fireball has a post here about some software designed to create digital books. But taking books beyond the paper.
Now I have to buy an iPad to go with my iPhone. 
Check out Push Pop Press.
Should they still be called books?


At the Ambient Cafe yesterday, Letho was telling me of plans for new granite tops.
He said granite to rhyme with night, stressing the last syllable.
I told him how I pronounced it. Then I tried to think of other words that had a similar spelling and pronunciation. Pronunciation was often spelt wrongly by instructors at the English language school I taught at in Japan.
"His pronounciation is poor, and so is his grammer."

It took a long time to come up with other words. Last night, as I was trying to get to sleep, my mind was still working. I was interested in how I tackled the problem. It seemed quite a different process to a mathematical problem. One technique, which I use when I forget .... what are those things called....words, is to go through alphabet. Oh, that is a systematic approach, which is used in maths. At another stage, I found myself thinking visually. When spell, I like to see how a word looks.

The first word I came up with was composite. Opposite quickly followed. There were a couple more, but I did not write them down, and cannot remember them.  What I really wanted was a word ending in nite that sounded nit. Favourite came later, then one of the cakes in the cafe spurred on carrot. We were getting further away from the spelling I wanted, but the same idea. Chocolate.

Then I fell asleep.

This morning, I visited my favourite computational knowledge engine Wofram|Alpha. There must be other places where you can do similar searches, but I have found Wolfram does some neat things with words. If you want anagrams, just type "anagrams of (insert word here)" and up they come. How many words can you make using the letters GRANITE? Type "words from granite". Up come several options, including three anagrams at the bottom – ingrate, tangier and tearing. You probably want without repetition, so click on "Disallow repetition". Up come 152 words. 

I typed "words ending nite" and got this:

It was just a matter of spotting the words with the right sound. Not like right, that is.
There are not that many, but some. Infinite is a difficult one to explain when you have finite.

If you just want ite on the end, there are more.

Again, not many rhyming with granite.

Probably the most common word that I hear pronounced differently by Bhutanese (and Indians, who often are their English teachers) is determine. Yes, deter mine. It looks like two words put together. Can you think of some words which have a similar spelling to determine and rhyme with it? Rhyme with determine, not rhyme with it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Looks like I may have to get an iPhone.
Someone has made a trumpet app.
There is more information here, including a video.
Should I trust a company that made Vuvuzela Man first?