Monday, November 19, 2012


One pays the price for being lazy!  Last night we decided to go out for a quick bite to eat rather than stay in and cook.  I had not been to Champions Bar in the the Renaissance Hotel yet this trip so we decided to go there.

Sandra ordered a bowl of soup and I chose chicken wings.  When the food arrived Sandra's first spoonful of soup contained a piece of plastic in it.  My wings, on the other hand were cool, not cool as in good, but cool as in cool.  Cool or even cold wings can actually be quite good, but these were sloppy skinned and very very greasy.  I a managed to peel and eat only three before I gave up.

We asked for the bill, and then we explained that we didn't want to pay for the plastic fact in the US we wouldn't have paid for any of it, but leaving a plate of cold greasy wings here is just an expat. affectation.  So three wings and a beer for about $20 (with tip!).
So we went home and improvised a quick supper with what was in the fridge.  At this point any Italian readers should look away as they would surely prefer to have the wings!

I had a piece of smoked ham in the fridge which I cut into cubes and gently fried.  Then I put a pan of salted water on the induction cooker and added a good handful of dried spaghetti to the boiling water.  This meant I had about ten minutes.  I put some left over stuffed zucchini in the microwave for Sandra (recipe was blogged earlier).  She is happy to eat them two days in a row, I am not!

I broke an egg into a bowl and added some President Brand Salakis FETA cheese.  This is not quite like feta cheese, but rather a feta cheesish/cream cheese cross breed.  I mixed it in well and added some milk powder.  (Of course there is no fresh cream or milk in Atyrau and the UHT variation is, to my taste, quite horrid).  
I put a splash of water in the mix to turn the powder officially into milk.  I then added a good grind of black pepper and  mixed it up well.

When the pasta was cooked I emptied it into the collander and tipped my egg mix into the hot empty pan and gave it a few stirs for the cheese to melt.  Then I added back the pasta and threw in the ham and mixed it well before turning it out into a bowl for dinner.
If you are looking at the above picture an seeing the grated cheese on top and wondering why I didn't use parmesan in the isnt!  It is a little piece of aged gouda that I found in the cheese box!!

And just in case you thought I was making it up about Sandra getting the Zucchini, here they are...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


This is a quote from the on-line newspaper, West Kazakhstan Today, which is a wonderful new resource for the expats in Atyrau:"

“Ballet Evenings”of Bolat AYUKHANOV’S ballet theatre will be on tour on November 5- 7 in  the Drama Theater named after Makhambet. The citizens of Atyrau will have the pleasure to see the scenes from such world famous ballets, as “Swan Lake”, “Carmen”, “The Master and Margarita”, “Eugene Onegin”, “Anna Pavlova”, “The young lady and the hooligan”, “Giselle” and other. The tour is dedicated to the 45th anniversary of the state academic ballet dance theater under the directorship of Bolat AYUKHANOV, the People’s Artist of the Republic of Kazakhstan." 

Last weekends we bought tickets.  When I say "we" I mean Sandra, I stood well out of the interference zone and took photos.  They were purchased at the box office using the AMOS.

(For those of you unfamiliar with AMOS, it is the Atyrau Menu Ordering System. This system, widely used in restaurants, involves being offered a wide range of choices (in restaurants often accompanied with pictures, in the theatre- a diagram of the auditorium).  After carefully making a selection one is told, Nyetto- not available.  So one reconsiders and makes a second choice, to be told again, Nyetto.  This continues for as many cycles as ones patience or innocence can handle.  Finally, one has to ask what one can have, and then is offered a choice of a few items from the extended list.  In our theatre case, a diagram showing 90% of the seats available ended up with us being directed to two seats near the front, which of course we then "chose".)

The Aukhan Kazakh National Ballet Theatre is, according to its website:

"Kazakhstan's most internationally renowned dance company. The companies founder and director, Professor Bulat Aukhanov is world famous in Ballet circles as one of the greatest living choreographers"   

We were looking forward to going to performances on both Monday and Tuesday, Swan Lake and Anna Pavlova, not the entire ballets, but selections from them.

On Monday night we left Sandra's office at 6.16 pm and walked the 20 or 30 minute walk to the Drama Theatre in time for the 7 o'clock start.  The theatre has a prominent position at the top of Abay street.

We popped into the Ak Zhaik Hotel to buy pastries to snack on as we walked, Sandra was not very approving!

The picture of the Theatre below is actually one that I took earlier.  I forgot to take one on this occasion, or perhaps it was more a case of being too preoccupied with my cheese stuffed pastry thing.

At the top of the theatre steps we entered through a fairly modest door. Our ticket stubs were taken at this door, so it was not possible to even enter the foyer without a ticket.  The lobby was very simple.  No ticket sales, just a long counter behind which the ladies were checking in coats  and hanging them on rows and rows of pegs.  There were no catering facilities and one just waited in the tiled foyer until the theatre doors opened and we could enter.  The picture show the foyer outside the auditorium doors.  down the steps to the left was the theatre entrance and the coat racks.  Behind to the left is the main door.

Inside the auditorium we took our seats.  Rather confusingly the seat numbers in front of our seats were not our seat numbers, they were on the back of the seats.  So we, like a number of expats who subsequently came in and sat near us, started off sitting in the wrong seats.  As you see number 14 is behind number 13, and I am sitting in number 15.  I am still wondering why they didn't put the numbers on the other side of the seat backs so they were easier to see.

We were in early and the theatre was fairly empty, Sandra's colleague Edwin, was there with his wife Ester, and he kindly took our pictures!  The seats were a little hard but there was more leg room than most London theatres, which were probably built when people were on average 15cm shorter!  The room was not exactly elaborate, but nor was it stark.  The thing I noticed immediately was how few lights (spots, fllods etc) there were in the wings and hanging from the roof.  It turned out that the performance did not rely on a lot of special effects lighting. 

 The were sitting in the third row from the front, just out of the above picture on the left.  Those large speakers at either side of the stage turned out to be the orchestra for the evening.  It worked perfectly well, though it was rather loud where we were sitting.  I think they were the sound for the whole theatre.

The front seats were the most expensive.  just behind the front six or seven rows was the row of VIP seats.  These were eventually occupied by rather smart looking local people.  They were seats that we tried to book (Nyet!) so we know they were not available to riff-raff like us.
The performance started on Monday with a disembodied announcement of a couple of minutes.  We don't know what it was about.  On Tuesday, the great Mr Ayukhanov (I think) came out and made a short speech. We don't know what it was about either.  

The Monday night performance was a series of dances from Swan Lake. After about an hour the curtain fell, we did all the appropriate applause, but then it opened again and we got about fifteen minutes of Carmen, with a ballerina who seemed very good if a little older.  We supposed we were supposed to know who she was.  Possibly a famous Kazakh dancer.  The performance was over in about 80 minutes.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was fast moving, intricate and energetic.  On Tuesday we had parts of Anna Pavlova, which lasted a little longer but with a 15 minute intermission.  Again, it was very good.

The pictures below were taken in poor light without a flash...some people were using flash, and there seemed to be no prohibition on taking photographs.  I have mixed pictures from both performances.

The costumes were fairly elaborate and colourful, and there were a lot of changes.  Not being a ballet buff, I cannot actually critique the performances, but there was a lot of spinning and jumping, high kicking and balancing in odd positions (these are not technical terms...) and nobody fell over, dropped anyone, got lost in a major dance routine, which I think is all good.  But above all they managed to make it look fairly easy and effortless, which I think is pretty important.  One doesn't like to watch ballet feeling like it is the final mile of a marathon.

One other thing that was rather different was the number of small children in the audience.  The first night there were two or three little girls abot 5 years old who seemed to mbe playing musical chairs, moving round the seats during the performance.  This was rather a distraction from listening to the people chatting to each other behind us during the quieter and less action apcked dances.  Some of the audience were very young.

Or if you want a little more detail...

We had a very nice couple of evenings.  

Monday, November 5, 2012


I have decide to post a few recipe ideas on this blog. If for no other reason than it gives Sandra one less reason not to cook when I am away!  The recipes will use locally available ingredients, though I do assume people have a few herbs and spices.

Here is a recipe I make quite often as it is easy, tasty has a good fridge life and can be sent to work with Sandra for lunch or eaten as a main meal in the evening.  Most importantly the ingredients are almost always available and not too expensive.

Stuffed Zucchini/Corgettes

These are the ingredients excluding the oil, spices and herbs.

Olive Oil in a pot.
 Two onions, one half finely chopped, the other one and an half sliced.
 One cup of rice in a pot of water (you will only use about 1/4 of this, the extra is for an accompanyment if you want it).  I use plenty of water and just drain it when the rice is almost cooked.

 Three cloves of garlic finely chopped.

Sweat the onion slices in the olive oil till translucent.

Put the chopped onion in a cup and microwave for 60 seconds to soften it.
 Add half a tin of tomato paste to the onion and the choppen garlic and cook down for about a minute.
 If you cannot find chopped tomatoes use a can of whole tomatoes and chop them up first.  I do it the lazy way in the can!

Add the chopped tomatoes to the onions and add a cup and an half of water. Simmer for 30 minutes or so  while you do the next bit.
 Wash and trim two fairly large zucchinis.
Hollow them out using an apple corer.  The top pictures show the technique of making a centre hole and then shaving away round the inside.  The bottom pictures show three overlapping holes and then a quick internal smoothing!
The six half zucchini pieces

Prepare the herbs and spices
Dried basil 1 tsp
Cried oregano  1 tsp
Dried thyme  1/2 tsp
Bay leaf 2
Chili powder 1/4 tsp (to taste)
Black pepper 1/2 tsp

Add the above to the tomato sauce.

Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Allspice powder 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon  powder big pinch
Cloves powder big pinch
Black pepper 1/2 tsp

Add these to the ground meat.

Now take about 1/4 kilo of ground beef or lamb and squish it with your hands and kneed it like dough for about 5 minutes.

 You will have a slightly mushy ground meat mix.
 Add the onions from the microwave and about 1/2 cup of cooked rice
 Mix well with a teaspoonful of salt (or less if preferred)
 And stuff into the zucchini
 The stuffed zucchini can be simmered in the pan with the sauce for about an hour until cooked.  Longer will do no harm, just macke the zucchini softer.

Or they can be put in a dish and cooked in the oven at 350F for about an hour, turning occassionally.  If you are worried about them drying out cover with aluminum foil or a lid, or turn the oven down to 250F.
This picture shows the zucchini before they went in the oven.  I forgot to photograph them when they came out, we just ate them!