Dreaming about Armenia. Wishing I was there. Here are a few photos from my travels: Yerevan, Armenia’s capitol city.
Dolls at Vernissage
The last time I was in Armenia, I ate Manti with Maribeth. We were dining at The Club, a lovely subterranean restaurant with delicious food, located in the center of Yerevan, Armenia’s capitol.
Maribeth and I were there to celebrate. We’d each just registered our adoption (formally accepted our referral). We were in the same room at the same time (Big Papa didn’t make this trip – a story for another post) and a bond was formed between us after sharing this life-changing, emotional experience.
Amazingly, Maribeth is also originally from Seattle (though she now resides on the east coast). The irony isn’t lost on me: Beth and Maribeth, both from Seattle.
Here we were, breaking bread together – and toasting with a shot of Armenian brandy – to honor this momentous occasion, in a restaurant half-way around the world from the place we call home. How crazy is that?
The meal was stupendous. We ordered a sampler platter filled with dolma, hummus, baba-ganoush, and a host of amazing Armenian dishes.
Then the Manti was served. Honestly, for the next few minutes, the only sound you could hear was Maribeth and I swooning over our Manti.
“Mmmm,” she murmured.
“Wow,” I concurred.
If there is a mantra for Manti, Maribeth and I have been meditating on it ever since. We both dream about Manti.
Manti are dumplings. Divine dumplings. Slightly crisped on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth incredible on the inside, and bathed in a savory yogurt sauce. It was so good. I wanted to dive right into that bowl. Of course, first I would have had to arm-wrestle Maribeth.
When it comes to Manti, there are actually two kinds: baked manti and also a version cooked in broth as a soup. They are each prepared the same general way, but are shaped differently. Baked Manti are baked in the oven whereas soup manti are cooked in broth. Although Manti is not exclusive to Armenia, and I’ve seen a few variations on a theme, they are typically served topped with a yogurt-garlic sauce and sumac, that interesting, sour, Middle-Eastern spice.
Aside from its heavenly flavor, Manti is notable for being a time consuming dish to prepare. I have seen a few recipes that call themselves “short-cuts” and use wonton wrappers for the dough, but come on people, that’s cheating. Yes, it takes a long time to make them, but as Maribeth and I will tell you: when it comes to Manti (and adoption) the wait and the effort is worth it!
This weekend, Manti is on the menu (and it’s a safe bet that our bottle of Armenian brandy won’t be far away). Another celebration is in order. In three weeks, Maribeth is going to Armenia to become a mom! And hopefully, it won’t be long before I’m once again following in her footsteps.
Congratulations, dear friend: this one’s for you!
Makes About 100: Serves 4 to 5
Each of these tiny dumplings is about the size of your fingertip, so you can easily serve 20 to 25 to each person. It’s traditional to invite friends to help fill and seal the Manti; after all, many hands make light work. They can be frozen for up to 1 month.
For the Dough:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon course salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
- 8 ounces ground lamb
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon course salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For Cooking and Serving:
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- Course salt
- 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt or labneh
- 2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
- 3/4 teaspoon red pepper (or papikra)
- a sprinkle of Sumac (found in grocery stores or spice shops that specialize in Middle Eastern foods)
- Make the dough: Sift together flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add egg. Using your hands, gently draw flour mixture into egg. Gradually add the cold water, and continue to work dough with your hands or a spoon until it forms a smooth paste.
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Kneed until dough is smooth and springs back when pressed, 5 to 8 minutes. Divide dough into 2 balls, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Make the filling: Gently combine lamb, onion, parsley, salt and pepper. (Filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll out 1 portion of dough into a 16-by-10 inch oblong about 1/16 inch think. Using a ruler, cut dough into 1 1/4 inch squares with a pizza wheel or a paring knife. Keep remaining dough covered with a damp kitchen towel while you work.
- Spoon 1/4 teaspoon filing in center of 1 dough square. Gently pull 2 opposite corners outward to stretch dough slightly, then pull up to meet in center, and pinch to seal. Repeat with remaining 2 corners, making sure all air has been pressed out. Pinch together all 4 corners to form a point, then pinch along all 4 seams to seal. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and cover with a damp kitchen towel. repeat. Remove towel, and cover with a piece of parchment. (Dumplings can be refrigerated on baking sheets, wrapped in plastic, for up to 1 day. Alternatively, freeze on baking sheets, uncovered, for 2 hours, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 1 month.)
- For cooking and serving: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange Manti in a single snug layer in the dish. Bake until fragrant and tops and corners are golden brown, about 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring stock, cinnamon, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a saucepan. Remove baking dish from oven, and add enough stock to dish so that all but the tops of the Manti are submerged. Cover tightly with parchment and then foil, and bake until soft, about 2 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, stir together yogurt or labneh and garlic paste in a medium bowl. When Manti have finished cooking, tile baking dish, collect about 1/4 cup liquid with a ladle, and stir into yogurt sauce (sauce should be spoonable).
- Melt remaining 7 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until amber, about 7 minutes.
- Divide Manti among shallow serving bowls. Spoon yogurt sauce over top, drizzle with browned butter, and sprinkle with mint, red pepper and sumac.
Traveling in Armenia is a feast for the senses, particularly where food is involved. Dolma, kufta, amazing yogurt and ice cream…and of course, Pakhlava (which many other countries call Bakhlava)! Here are a few pictures of delicious treats I enjoyed on my visits to Armenia.
Want to see more deliciousness? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday!
“You’re still you and we’re still us,” Big Papa told me the other day. He’s right, of course. But in the past couple months it’s been hard to remember this in the midst of tackling various issues around two parents with dementia, one going on Medicaid and one about to move into an assisted living “memory” unit. Add to this some unspeakably frustrating and scary turns of events related to our adoption. And then just for kicks this week, toss in one trip to the ER (me for an infected thumb) and a totally to-the-rim flat tire. Let’s just say that who “me” is feels like she’s buried under a mountain of misery.
That’s not how I want to be. I’d like to dig out from under this sense of being overwhelmed and without control and find a bit of peace in my days. Joy even.
Ironically, at a time which would seem like exactly the right time to write, I can’t. I’ve started a sentence of this and a paragraph of that, only to crumple the page (or hit the Delete key). Many times writing is supremely cathartic, but of late, not so much.
Then today, I had a mini-Epiphany when I was looking through some shots from a few of the trips Big Papa and I have taken. Who am I? I’m a writer, yes. And, I’m a photographer too.
So today, and this week, and maybe for a couple weeks to come, I’m going to share of bit of myself through the images I’ve taken. If the words for a story aren’t passing easily through my fingers to the page, I can show the pictures that tell a story as seen through my eyes. As the adage goes, sometimes:
A picture is worth a thousand words.
First up: Travels in Armenia
Happy Birthday Pampers and Pakhlava! Today my blog turns one.
It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in front of my computer screen, forefinger shaking as it hovered over the ‘publish’ button. I’d never written about something so personal in such a public venue. This was a big leap. I was full of nervous excitement, like a kindergartener on her first day of school.
What a difference a year makes. I’ve hit ‘publish’ countless times now (89 posts for Pampers and Pakhlava blog and 56 posts for the Urban Cabin). I still get a little nervous before I send my missives into the ether, but blogging has been a wonderfully rewarding experience.
I’ve met (both in-person and online) awesome people I might not have otherwise known and rekindled friendships from years gone by. My soul has been warmed by the heartfelt comments I’ve received from readers. Having a ‘community’ online and behind the scenes has made the difficult moments in our journey easier to bear.
And “what a long strange trip it’s been!” I’ve felt guilty at times that I blog on a women’s travel website, but all too rarely find myself outside the city limits. Yet my journey to become a mom has been, without question, the mother of all trips. It has taken me literally, figuratively, physically and emotionally to places I’d never imagined.
Last April when I published my first post, I wondered if I would find enough to write about, whether people would read my blog and, if so, what they would think about my musings. As it turns out, I never find myself short on words, it’s cathartic to give my thoughts solid ground, and hearing that some of my posts strike a chord with others is immensely satisfying.
Blogging about our adoption has helped me keep my sanity, through I-800 applications and updates, lost referrals, failed trips, and the sweet highs of hopeful expectations. For Big Papa and I our journey to adopt from Armenia has been the road less traveled. What lies around the next bend? I can hardly wait to find out and share it with all of you.
So thank you friends and family who faithfully read what I write. Thank you Beth W.: Wanderlust and Lipstick is a warm nest for my words. My heart swells with pride as I hit ‘publish’ today. ONE YEAR, Pampers and Pakhalva! Here’s to looking at you, kiddo.
Our adoption agency sent an email letting families know that the new laws regarding Armenian adoption have been published and there are several changes to update families on. They will be sending each family a personalized letter with their current status, place in ‘wait’ and details about how the new laws will impact them. All we’ve been told at this point is that the new laws and time frames should significantly reduce the waiting for families once officially matched to a referral. The letter describing all of this is slated to be sent out next week.
We wait with bated breath. Can I just say for the umpteenth time how much I struggle with waiting? Whether it’s waiting to get our U.S. Immigration approval for the required annual update to our home study, waiting for a referral or waiting to become parents, it just seems like adoptive parents-to-be do a heckuva lot of waiting.
I’m not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth. Reduced time frames would be absolutely fantastic. I can only imagine how tough it will be to wait once we have a solid referral. At this juncture, time from referral to court dates and then homecoming has been taking anywhere from four to eight months.
Sitting here, know our child is sitting there will be excruciating. Missing months of developmental milestones makes me sad, so if changes to the laws translate to less time waiting, more power to ‘em.
Even though our trip to Armenia this past September was painful, I am thankful Big Papa and I had the opportunity to visit one of the orphanages and see the excellent care the kids receive. I can now picture what it looks like in my head: the rooms, the caregivers, and where the kids sleep. Knowing they are in competent, caring hands eases my anxiety to a degree.
Still, waiting to adopt can feel endless. I guess a lot of things in life that. Whether it’s waiting to find out your mammogram results, waiting to find out if you got into your number one choice for college, or waiting to meet the person you want to share your life with, waiting is a big part of the program. Minutes feel like hours. Hours feel like days. Months feel like eternity.
You’d think because of all this practice, I’d learn some patience. I try so hard to cultivate my ability to stay present. I don’t want to miss joyful moments that are in my life each day because I’m so focused on this one thing that I can’t see the forest for the trees.
There are days when I find patience easily and other days, not so much. Something shifts my focus enough and I become hyper-aware that we’re not there yet. It could be news that a good friend just had a baby or I might see an adoptive mom at the market. Finding ourselves faced with yet another task to complete for the adoption (such as the recent update to our home study) or news (like this week) that changes are afoot with regulations in the country we’re adopting from, sets me off too. Or it could be a casual conversation with a caring friend who asks: “What’s happening on the adoption front?”
It’s a funny thing, this adoption journey. We wake up and our day looks just so…until one day it doesn’t.
Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens.
If I had a $10 for every time someone has asked me recently why we aren’t adopting from Haiti, I could probably fund the update to our home study (more on this in an upcoming post). Here’s the thing, even if we wanted to adopt from Haiti, we can’t.
In the wake of the disaster in Haiti, the government isn’t fully functioning, so there is no way to process a Haitian child through the Haitian courts. For families who already are “matched” with a child and waiting for their court dates, this is heartbreaking, though when the government is up and running, hopefully they’ll get their day in court. As for new adoptions, they are not being processed at all.
Had the earthquake not occurred, Big Papa and I still would not be able to adopt from Haiti. Since 1974, Haitian guidelines require that couples be married for ten years (single women, however, are allowed to adopt). Prior to the earthquake, some U.S. adoption agencies were hopeful that the adoption law pending in Haiti would pass, widening the guidelines and reducing the marriage requirement to five years. In our case, that would still prohibit us from adopting as we will hit three years this July.
It’s not easy to adopt from Haiti, even when life there is “normal.” I know one woman, who lives nearby, whose [now] three year old daughter was adopted from Haiti. She and her husband made four trips to Haiti over a two year period before being able to bring their daughter home. She described a slow, unwieldy government process with complexities and unforeseen stumbling blocks at every step in their journey to adopt.
Once a family is “in process” to adopt internationally simply switching countries is not typically a viable option (unless the adoption agency you select also represents that country and, even then, you must still resubmit paperwork and redo portions of your home study). The I-800a, which is the request to the U.S. government to adopt an international orphan, asks prospective adoptive families to specify: country, gender of child(ren) and age of child(ren). If a family says: China, girl, infant, the only way to change that is to update a home study or, in the case of country change, redo the entire home study and supporting paperwork before submitting a new I-800a to U.S. Immigration (USCIS). Of course, submitting a new I-800a is $830 for a couple and that’s just the I-800a, never mind a new home study and all supporting documentation.
While some of the regulations might seem to keep families from adopting, most are in place to protect prospective adoptees. We are adopting from Armenia, a Hague Convention country. In part, this means that all children available for adoption have been placed on a registry, giving extended family a chance to step forward and offer to raise this child. Imagine a child in Haiti, separated from family and then adopted to a family in the U.S., when there is an aunt or uncle in Haiti who might willingly take that child in, if they knew he was in need. Or consider the possibility that a mother or father might “sell” their child for emergency rations or medical care, a situation that has occurred in other countries and resulted in the U.S. ceasing to allow further adoptions to be processed. Acting in haste to find homes for children of disaster can open the door to a host of new, equally troubling scenarios.
While it’s heartening that people in the U.S. are thinking more about Haitian orphans in need, the truth is that, worldwide, there are children living in horrific circumstances. Hunger, homelessness, abuse, war, disease and natural disasters befall hundreds of thousands of children in countries around the globe, including the U.S. I want to believe that the flurry of interest in Haitian adoption isn’t just a result of jump-on-the-cause-du jour bandwagon. Haitian orphans need help, no doubt, but so do orphans in Vietnam and Guatemala (two countries which the U.S. currently has closed to international adoption), as do orphans in Sudan (adoption not allowed for Moslem children), as do children in a host of countries that the U.S. does have agreements with.
The list of children needing loving permanent homes is endless. If something good can come from all the death and despair in Haiti, I hope it will be to widen the net of families who might consider adoption from a range of counties (including the U.S.), and who are prepared for all that’s entailed to make it from square one to bringing a child home and then raising that child. When all is said and done, and the fallout from this disaster passes, there will be another and then another.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart, nor those in a big hurry. It isn’t meant to be a panacea to assuage the guilt we might feel as we watch the tragedy unfold in Haiti. Adoption isn’t just for the time being. Adoption is a life-long, life-changing decision, because the child you adopt becomes your child for a lifetime.
Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand! That’s ‘Merry Christmas’ in Armenian.
While the glow of the holiday season is fading in the U.S. and Christmas trees have been stripped of their glory and are heading to the curb, today is Christmas Day in Armenia. Armenian Christmas is celebrated January 6. So it is both ironic and fitting that the wine tasting at 12th & Olive Wine Company, this past Saturday, featured pomegranate wine.
The pomegranate, with its symbolic association with fertility, is the national fruit of Armenia. When Big Papa and I visited Yerevan this past September, the pomegranate was everywhere. At the Vernissage Flea Market in the center of the city, we saw glass pomegranate earrings, pomegranates painted on bookmarks and artwork and dried pomegranate Christmas tree ornaments.
“Pomegranate” is from the Latin “pomum granatum” which means “apple of many seeds.” Pomegranates are high in antioxidants. 100 ml of pomegranate juice has three times the antioxidants of 100 ml of red wine or 100 ml. of green tea. The health benefits are almost legendary. Consuming this fruit is thought to prevent lung, prostate and breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and Osteoarthritis. It protects the arteries, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and may reduce dental plaque. It is even purported to increase virility and fertility.
At the 12th & Olive tasting we sampled three wines made from pomegranates, a sparkling wine from Argentina, Armenian wine, and an Israeli dessert wine. All three had their own unique charm. Big Papa and I were excited to have a taste of the Armenian wine as it’s a rarity to find anything made in Armenia here in Seattle.
Both the Argentinean sparkler and Armenian wine were produced by ReVah. Steven, the wonderfully knowledgeable, friendly and helpful owner of 12th and Olive told us ReVah sources the fruit from each country. The Armenian wine is made at the Proshyan Wine Factory, which also makes some of Armenia’s famous brandy. We noticed Proshyan is in Yerevan and hope to visit the wine factory on our next trip.
Holding our glasses to the light, the color of the wine was a deep red, with shades of violet and raspberry. Putting my nose to the glass there was no mistaking the intense aroma of pomegranates. The wine was a bit sweet on the palate but not as syrupy as I imagined it might be, with hints of fresh fruit and light acidity. For $12.99 it’s a nice wine to enjoy on a warm summer’s day…or for those days when I want to conjure memories of being in Armenia.
When I was a child, my parents often bought pomegranates as a special treat. On a recent trip to visit my mother, she had a pomegranate waiting for me. I love the magic of cutting open the fruit to reveal hundreds of ruby-colored seeds.
Pomegranate’s subtle sweetness now holds an even deeper meaning for me, a thread to the heart of Armenia. Many Armenian fairy tales end thus: “Three pomegranates fell down from heaven: One for the story teller, one for the listener, and one for the whole world.”
Check out the WanderFood Wednesday series for more great food postings!
My copy of ‘The Cuisine of Armenia’ by Sonia Uvezian arrived in the mail today (thank you Amazon.com). If it weren’t for the fact that the Urban Cabin’s kitchen is still mid-remodel, I’d be diving right in to cook Armenian vittles for Big Papa and I. Unfortunately, I am without a stove for the moment, not to mention that the fridge is in the bedroom and the counter tops, what little remain, are caked with 100-year old dust.
Glancing through the recipes, there’s nary one I wouldn’t try (ok, well maybe not the ‘Tongue Salad’). One of the reasons I’m tickled to be adopting from Armenia is the food!
I first heard about Ms. Uvezian through her book, The Book of Yogurt. While I do not own this book (yet), I am a huge yogurt devotee. All her books receive rave reviews and several reviewers say ‘The Cuisine of Armenia’ is a “classic.”
With the advent of the internet, I’m buying fewer and fewer cookbooks. Recipes are at my fingertips online. That said I wanted one compilation of Armenian recipes I could wade through. Uvezian’s book is also sprinkled with tidbits on Armenian history as it relates to food and recipes. I love to read about food history and learn more about the cultural roots for the food we’ll eat.
If I can’t cook much these days, I certainly can read. So I nestled next to Maggie the cat and took my time perusing the many temptations awaiting me in the 487 page cookbook.
At times I think I reading about food and cooking is as tantalizing as making the dish itself. The joy is in the imagining. Some days I’ll find myself searching for sweet treats and others I’ll scour my sources for hearty stews.
Today, the recipe that jumped out and said, “Make me! Make me!” was the recipe for Armenian Cherry Brandy. It could be the biting chill to the air or possibly stores filled to the brim with red this and that, but suddenly some tummy-warming burgundy-colored brandy, home made no less, sounds like just the ticket.
Armenian brandy is world-renowned for its excellence. Winston Churchill was so impressed with Armenian brandy given to him by Stalin that he asked for several cases of it to be sent to him each year.
When I was a kid, my father made cherry brandy. I have fond memories of him letting my sister and I enjoy the wrinkled drunken cherries that we found sitting at the bottom of the jar. The brandy recipe in ‘The Cuisine of Armenia’ calls for cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It just sounds so darn festive.
Of course, fresh cherries are quite seasonal and out of the question mid-December, so I’m contemplating using a combo of frozen and dried cherries or substituting with another fruit altogether. Pomegranate, in particular comes to mind. Aside from pomegranate being the national fruit of Armenia, it also has a lovely festive red color.
Here’s the recipe for Armenian Cherry Brandy. Tweak as desired (as my fridge magnet reads: “She didn’t always follow the recipe”):
Armenian Cherry Brandy
- Sour cherries
- Whole cloves
- Cinnamon sticks
- Whole nutmeg
Wash, stem and pit the sour cherries. Place equal amounts of the cherries and sugar in alternate layers in a heavy, enameled saucepan, ending with a layer of sugar on top. Let stand 12 hours or overnight. The following day, bring the mixture slowly to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Drain off the cherry juice and measure (reserve the cherries).
To each cup of cherry juice, add ½ cup brandy. To 8 cups of the cherry-brandy mixture, add 1-1/2 teaspoons whole cloves, 1 small cinnamon stick, 1 whole nutmeg, and ½ cup of the cherries. Pour into sterilized bottles and seal and store in a cool place. The brandy will be ready in one month. Serve chilled.
Check out the WanderFood Wednesday series for more great food postings!