Monday, January 28, 2013


I am going to do some posts on food.  I will try very hard to use ingredients that are available here in Atyrau.  We are all always looking for ideas and inspiration for new things to cook and recently I have had conversations that make me think that there may be some interest in this subject.  We have made bread since we came here, sometimes by hand, sometimes in the bread machine, but last year we found the answer!

Last October I was introduced to some really good bread by Chris Henderson.  Now everyone has their own thoughts on what is good bread, some like it soft others hard and crunchy, some like firm and tightly knit and others loose with big holes through it, some like chewy others melty, some like sour others sweet and so on.  The conclusion being that there is no perfect loaf, in fact, far from it.  But the loaf that Chris produced was very much to our taste, and she supplied us with several more over the next couple of months as I did not have a pan suitable for baking my own.

She made a white loaf, but I have been experimenting with the addition of whole wheat flour, and we think we prefer it, though I will quickly point out that I much prefer white bread to whole wheat bread.

The principle behind this bread is that it uses the slow rise technique that allows the flavour to develop so much better than in fast rise bread.

So this is what you do, with some pictures...

2 1/2 Cups white flour
1/2    Cup   whole wheat flour (or equivalent white flour)
1 1/2 Cups water
1 1/2 Tsp  Salt
1/4    Tsp  yeast (I am using quick rise yeast, I think normal would be better)

Mix together in a bowl (I use a table knife) for about 30 seconds

Cover the bowl and put it in somewhere that is not too hot and not too cold (I usually just leave it on the kitchen temperature), though it seems to be better to keep it cooler rather than warmer.  I even put one batch in the fridge overnight as it was coming along a bit too fast.  The objective is to let it sit for at least 12 hours, and probably more like 18 hours, by which time it should be a stick bubbly mess of wet dough about twice the volume you started with.
At this point you clean a work surface and liberally sprinkle it with flour.  You scrape the sticky dough out onto the flour using something like a rubber spatula.  You can use your fingers but they will get very gluey.  
Once the dough is on the counter sprinkle a little more flour on it and fold the outside edges into the middle working round the puddle of dough trying to form a sort of round ball!  Add a little more flour to avoid your fingers getting stuck to it all.
This will take about a minute.  When it is a sort of round shape (last two pictures above) Sprinkle some flour on top and cover with a cloth, plastic wrap or an upturned bowl.
Turn the oven on to maximum and put a cast iron pot with a lid in it!  The dough will do a second rising for about 30 to 60 minutes, and by that time you should have a nice hot oven and bowl!

Remove the cover and with floured fingers ease the dough off the counter or board, dust a little flour under it so it doesn't stick, and do a final folding of the edges into the centre.  The middle top will look quite untidy where you have stuck the edges of the dough down in the middle.  
Take the pot from the oven, take off the lid and lift the ball of dough over the pot and gently let it fall in.  This is a good opportunity to get some nice burns on your wrists so be careful.  The dough is sitting in the pot with a dusting of flour and the seam side UP.
Pop on the lid and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  

After 30 minutes (or 25 if you are impatient!) open the oven and remove the lid.  Bake for the last 5 minutes or so with the lid off.  It is up to you how dark you like the top.  Take it out and put on a cooling rack. 
When you cut into it there should be quite large holes from the bubbles that were produced during the rise and bake.
This is a very forgiving recipe.  You can experiment with different types of flour, and the rising and cooking times seem flexible.  Do not add more yeast than 1/4 teaspoonful as you need it to work hard and produce good flavour.  The dough is wet and hard to handle.  Have well floured hands and board, and this will end up adding a bit more flour into the mix and firming it up a little.

It will also help if you can get a pan that is the right size, ours came from Ideal Schlumberger for those shopping in Atyrau, and whilst hardly a thing of beauty, actually seems perfect for this job.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Friday was to be the day of my birthday celebrations.  We hoped that with three night to recover from the 13 hour time difference I might be able to stay awake long enough to at least say hello to the guests.  As I had been away for a few weeks it was to be a chance to catch up, and to make the most of it and not be over occupied with the cooking we decided to go out.

I like this rather local restaurant which has private dining rooms for hire as well as a main dining room.  So for a party of about 25 people we hired a room there and pre-ordered a menu of shashlik (beef, pork, lamb, chicken and veal), roasted vegetables and some fries.  Typically Kazakh!

On Friday morning I walked over to Ram store to do some shopping.  Unfortunately I had forgotten my transport home (that is my cell phone, key to arranging a taxi) so had to walk back.  It was fine as it is only a 30 minute walk or so.  

However by the time I got home I was feeling really tired, jet lag catching up perhaps, and decided in order to be in good form for the evenings activities I would take a brief siesta.

I woke up about four hours later with a fever, headache and sore throat.  The long and the short of it was that was the end of my birthday celebration.  Sandra went and hosted the party and I went back to sleep.

She tells me a good time was had by all and most of the guests have kindly corroborated this.  The photographs seem to indicate people having fun.

Thank you everyone who attended, and I fully understand those of you who were also ill!

The pictures below are courtesy of Jon Hockenberry, thanks Jon.


Well in one sense I am back in Atyrau earlier than expected.  I had planned to return in March and Sandra was going to visit California in January, but by reversing the order I get to enjoy the heart of the Kazakhstan winter, oh joy!

On the other hand I booked my flight back on through Istanbul travelling from Wednesday to Friday.  Unfortunately my visa did not show up from the Kazakhstan Embassy in DC in time and I had to delay a few days and fly into Atyrau on the next Istanbul flight on the Tuesday.  I took the delay to spend an extra day in Istanbul, so it wasn't too painful.

Atyrau is snow covered and a little chilly, about -10C, but fluctuating.  Fortunately there is not much wind.  So on Wednesday I decided to walk to Asia and meet Sandra for lunch at the Riverside Office.  It was harder to get out on foot than it was in summer and fall, before the snow and ice. 

Zheti Kazyna was deep in slow though they have now obtained a small bulldozer and have started piling it up then loading it into a truck to be taken away.  The groaning of the dozer has been going on all day for three days now.

 Out on the roads and side walks the snow has been compacted to ice and the ice sheet is an average of 3 inches deep. 

I walked out on the canal side route, unsure of how easy it would be to climb the bank of the canal.

                                                         It wasn't a problem.  But what was a problem was a three foot ditch that has been dug all the way along the top of the canal with the dirt from it piled up beside it.  I realised this only when I had scaled the bank, I decided not to try and jump/step over it with all the snow and ice so went back down the bank getting into 12 inch deep snow that tripped me up and almost caused me to fall flat on my face!                                                                      

                                                           So enraged was I with my own foolishness that I took a picture of the offending foothole in the snow.  Don't try to figure that out!

I took a more conservative route out  staying on the level ground.

At Tamosha the Christmas tree frame is still up and Santa Claus is sitting there fully inflated, welcoming in the New Year.

Along Satpayeva the summer sweeping crews have morphed into the winter snow moving crews.  The main task is to chip away at the ice coating which breaks off in blocks and is piled beside the side walk. 

For some strange reason piling this ice and snow round the little sapling trees is very popular.

 In the picture on the right you can see where ice has been chipped away.

Below is a detailed picture of the technology used to undertake this chipping task.
On the subject of technology I happened upon a road scraper.  In the summer I encountered a mechanical road sweeper, and now there is a mechanical snow mover.  I need hardly say that this does not bode well for the legions of road workers that sweep in summer and chip in winter.
No prizes for guessing where this piece of equipment came from!

The next day I decided to walk out using the other route, going round the back and taking the footbridge across the canal.  This time I came upon the pipeline layers in action joining the sections of pipe together.  What puzzles me is that the pipes are being joined on the ground at the bottom of the dyke.  The channel that has been cut for the pipe is along the top of the dyke, and the dirt that has been excavated is piled up next to the trench but between the pipe and the trench, making it necessary to haul the connected pipe not only up the bank but over the pile of dirt.  I need and engineer to explain the logic.  If the pipe was laid and joined on the top of the dyke it could simply be rolled into the trench, or so it would seem.

As you can see above the pipe connecting equipment is not very large or bulky.  

The picture on the left is the improvised bridge that has been put in place to cross the trench at the top of the dyke.

The picture below shows the current end of the trench over by Satpayeva, far right is the Zheti Kazyna compound.
On my walks to Asia I had the opportunity to have my first walk of the year on the Ural.  Unfortunately the steps down to the river, straight opposite the Riverside Office of NCPOC, had already become icebound.  The conundrum is that they are clearest in the middle, but by risking the middle route one is unable to hold the hand rails.  On the other hand using the sides and holding the rails puts one on the edge of the steps which are simply a long icy slide with no footholds at all.  I negotiated them using an abseiling technique, whereby one goes down backwards, holding the rail with both hands and leaning back to try and get some traction with ones feet.  It sort of works, I just hope that there are not people watching this Mr Bean type performance from the Riverside Office!

This year with the snow the river surface is very bumpy and rough.

 After lunch I walked home to Zheti Kasyna.  The strange thing is that once the ice has been removed from the side walks the brick surfaces become very slippery and much more difficult to walk on than the ice.  So on my route home I tried to avoid the newly cleared pavement.  

Of course in this weather there are lots of car accidents.  The drivers do not actually go particularly fast, I think because many of the cars can't go particularly fast.  But their ability to go fast is matched by an ability to stop fast, especially on icy roads, and therein, I suspect, lies the problem. Having said that the number of accidents where cars have simply run into the car in front seem to be matched by an equal number where one wonders what they were doing to get into that position in the first place.  This was the accident I saw on my walk home. 
 The highlight of my day!  That says it all, I think.