26 December 2010

Our Dinner Guest of Honor

After Thanksgiving Mike read the Facebook status of one of our friends who had enjoyed a succulent duck for dinner (We've had her duck. It's amazing.) and Mike wondered if we could get duck here. Well, with the help of our driver, Mohammed, my Christmas present to Mike was a duck for dinner.

On Tuesday Muffin and I went to the bird market in the Old City, where there are all sorts of live birds for both dinners and pets. We were surrounded by blue and green parakeets (budgies), geese, turkeys, blackbirds, guinea hens, and chickens. Ducks were scarce but Mohammed assured me we'd find some. First I was offered geese. They looked good, but they weren't what I wanted. And they looked too big to fit into our tiny oven. (I'd been instructed to buy the biggest duck I could find, but I was thinking of the biggest duck that would fit in our small oven and small selection of cooking pans.) The first ducks I found were mallards. They were cheap, but covered in flies. In an outdoor market like this, there are going to be some flies, but I wanted to shop around see what my other options were.

We walked down the street, peeking into every storefront. The parrots and parakeets where beautiful and I wanted a cage full of little blue ones to bring home for our terrace. There were also some beautiful ornamental hens and I wish I had a yard for keeping some in. I saw two of the biggest turkeys I've ever seen in my life. Mohammed said that if Americans want a big turkey they must wait for Christmas; at Thanksgiving time only small turkeys are available. There are enough Christians in the city to demand big Christmas turkeys, but not enough Americans to warrant big Thanksgiving turkeys. (Not that the big ones would fit in our oven anyway.) We passed by dozens and dozens of guinea hens, small turkeys, and geese but after several storefronts we still hadn't seen any other ducks.

Just when I was resigning myself to the possibility of guinea hens instead of duck we came to one of the last vendors on the block, the one Mohammed buys the Americans' Thanksgiving turkeys from. He happened to have two big ducks as well. They were pricier than the first ducks I'd seen, but the conditions seemed cleaner. No flies, less smelly. And the right size -- the biggest I could find and the biggest that would fit in our oven. We made a deal for the three kilo male duck, the larger of the two, for 1200 rupees (about $26). It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but honestly I have no idea how much a duck should cost. He tried to sell me the pair for a bargain price and it didn't occur to me until the ride home that I could have bought them both and put one in the freezer.

Many Americans get excited over buying fresh meat but then make a mistake, only once, about delivery of the animal. After seeing friends have live turkeys and other live animals dropped off at their houses, I knew to ask for the duck to be prepared for us. Plucked, cleaned, no neck, take out the organs, for an additional 100 rupees ($2 -- probably the best $2 I've ever spent).

On Thursday Mohammed went back to the market with a cooler full of ice, picked up our prepared duck, and brought it home. Our housekeeper cleaned it off and wrapped it up to sit in the refrigerator. Mike had his Christmas duck.

Mike did all the cooking yesterday. I'm not confident in my meat-roasting skills, but I was able to stock the kitchen with all the groceries he needed, plus keep Muffin out of the way, tidy up the presents-opening mess, and set the table while Mike went to work with his bird.

Muffin helped a little.

It was delicious. It wasn't perfect, but that's due to us still figuring out the nuances of the oven and the toughness of the bird had to do with the life it led before it met me. But it was tasty and something we'd like to do again. The potatoes and carrots roasted in duck fat were amazing and if duck fat is readily available to you I highly suggest you try it. With some seasoned rice and a cranberry log our friends brought over, dinner was complete.

Note the cranberry log standing upright on the plate...

We had a great dinner with some of our new friends and we couldn't have asked for a better day. I hope everyone else celebrating yesterday had as happy a Christmas as we did.

24 December 2010

Our Dazzling Indian Christmas Tree

Our Christmases in Burundi were small. It's hard to get a good tree there and in lieu of wrapped gifts it's easier to send Amazon gift cards because you know they'll arrive on time. Our first year, I was happy that our household belongings arrived before Christmas so we had a few goodies and all my favorite movies on hand. Our second Christmas there, we had just found out I was pregnant but we weren't telling anyone yet. First trimester exhaustion and nausea kept me on the couch instead of decorating and attending holiday parties.

This year, I knew our belongings would not arrive before Christmas, yet I wanted a big first Christmas for Muffin. I resolved to find the best Christmas India had to offer.

The tree was the easy part. I went to one of the huge department stores while they just happened to be setting up their Christmas display. I grabbed the biggest, greenest fake tree they had before anyone else had the chance to buy it. I didn't like any of the decorations they had, though, and they didn't have a single strand of lights for sale (!!) so my tree sat in its box for a couple weeks.

When I started this Christmas project, it hadn't quite sunk in yet that nothing is subtle here. Color happens. Once I realized that, searching for just the right decorations became a lot more fun.

The search for lights and decorations led me to Begum Bazaar; specifically, to the store my housekeeper calls the "Christian shop," where she buys her manger sets (she's one of the few Catholics here). There are just enough Christians and Catholics in the city to keep a closet-sized shop jam-packed with Christmas and Easter decorations in business. At first glance I was hesitant, but by the time I left, I loved this shop. It was crowded with tacky, brightly colored plastic stars, balls, bells, and Santas. It was one long, narrow aisle, barely wide enough for me to walk down, and three or four salesmen coming from behind the counter to offer me silver bells, blue snowflakes, red flower garlands, while desperately trying not to brush up against me, because that would be indecent, yet totally unavoidable in such a tiny store.

I wanted white lights and they didn't believe me. "No red, ma'am? No blue, ma'am?" They finally found me four strands of white lights, but it seemed to pain them.

The decorations I picked out were no where near what I originally envisioned for my Christmas -- something tasteful -- but I'm very happy with them now. It would have been easy to buy one of everything and stick it all on the tree in a crazy mishmash of ode to Made-in-China plastic. But I took a deep breath, relaxed, and found a theme. Mike actually picked up the first box of ornaments, fabric and sequin covered balls in pink, lime green, silver, bright red, and bright blue. Then I found another box of the same colors but a different size and silver threads running through instead of sequins. We managed to find several boxes in the same colors but different sizes and patterns, and with the white lights pulling it all together I knew it would work. "Bells, ma'am? Stars, ma'am? Jesus crib, ma'am?" No thank you, no thank you.

We did go with one crazy, tacky indulgence: a blue and silver snowflake adorned with a glittery blue Santa Claus.

Before we tallied up the bill, I asked about ornament hangers. They brought me all sorts of industrial-sized coat hooks and other various bits of metal that were too big, too sharp, too rusty, too anything but appropriate for hanging ornaments on a tree. Eventually one guy brought me a box of paperclips, unbent one of them, and I said "Perfect!"

And of course, the only place to put a bright green tree is against one of our brand-new red walls.

This tree definitely sparkles.

12 December 2010

The Paint Job

Just a few quick photos to meet the demand...

The yellow room will be our tv/media room. The light blue room is Muffin's room. (We have some jungle animal decals on order to decorate her room with.) The red room is the front entrance / living room / dining room. The red makes quite an impact when you walk in the front door.

We had four rooms painted for about $120. The fourth room is our bedroom, which is a bright cobalt blue, and too messy to take photos of right now.

09 December 2010

One Last Move!

We moved again! This is going to be it for about two years. Last week and the week before I'd made a couple trips out to the house to check on how the painting was going and I knew once the painting was finished we'd be moving in soon. But I was a little surprised when Mike called on Tuesday morning and said "The house is ready. They want us to move today. " ("And sorry, I can't come home to help.")

Luckily we never fully unpacked our boxes and suitcases and Muffin decided to take one of her longer daytime naps (almost a full hour), so I was able to zoom around and get quite a bit of stuff thrown into those boxes and suitcases before Muffin woke up. Then our housekeeper arrived and she and I took turns watching Muffin and packing. The movers would have done the packing for us, but I really wanted to get this job finished as quickly as possible. When they showed up there was very little for them to do except load the truck.

We walked into the new house and I saw the finished paint job. It's gorgeous! Our driver and housekeeper were surprised and they loved it too. (They worked for the previous couple in this house, so they've only seen it as white. They think more Americans should paint their rooms in bright colors.)

This is it. We are unpacking and staying put for a while. It's such a relief.

Now if only our car would get here.