Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More Than Just Salsa

There has been a strange trend as of late that when I meet people for the first time their first response is, "Hey you're the guy who sells salsa right?" Yes I am the salsa master, well at least according to the business cards that Kim had printed for me. It's not a bad thing to be known for as it is usually followed up with something like, "My room mate bought it and we both loved it so much we were eating it with a spoon." Which is a nice compliment, especially considering I don't even eat it with a spoon....well maybe the pomegranate.

This last weekend though my brand of Enlightened Salsa was no more, I'm rebranding and expanding into a wider array of food. If this first weekend was any indication, then it should be a success as I sold out of almost everything that I cooked up for the markets. The new items expand on the Mexican theme, providing things like; veg. chili, refried beans, and south west style pulled chicken (soon to be chipotle chicken when I get my peppers from Harilo). The larger expansion is into other American styles of cooking offering everything from Italian style pasta sauces to Tennessee style BBQ. This weeks items included BBQ Pulled Pork, Marinara sauce made with roasted red peppers, Mushroom Garlic pasta sauce, Bruschetta (which to be fair is just a slightly altered form of my old Greek salsa), Tzatziki, and Greek style triple strained yogurt.

Really the dairy products may be one of the largest areas I could expand into. The yogurt and tzatziki sold out about half way through the first day at the market. I've already been making my own butter, and butter milk but really haven't had any suitable packaging to sell it in. I'd also like to possibly move onto selling sour cream and possibly flavored cream cheeses if I can get the process down a bit more reliably, as I think those items would sell very well for the breakfast crowd. The problem with dairy is that it really needs refrigeration on site, and coolers here are absurdly expensive. My next order through Harilo will include a collapsible cooler which will make my expansion into dairy products possible.

Harilo also offers some room for further expansion, as you can get quite a few items from the States that aren't available here or items whose quality is vastly superior to what is available locally. Corn products for instance are a real problem here, and there is nothing worth using. Making BBQ mean you really want to have corn bread, and making Mexican dishes you really want corn tortillas. So in my shipment that is on the way I have a 4 pack of 20oz bags of Bob's Red Mill Cornbread mix and in my shipment I'm putting together now I'll have a cast iron tortilla press and a 10 Lb bag of Masa Harina so I can actually make tortillas. Beyond just corn products though I'm also able to purchase certain spices that you can't find here like the previously mentioned chipotle peppers, American style chili powder (which has a very different flavor than the local stuff) , the best BBQ sauce in Sweet Baby Ray's gallon containers (which is cheaper through Harilo than buying inferior quality stuff at Bhat Betini), and kitchen utensils like whisks which are apparently unavailable in Nepal. Who knew? But then what Nepali food would require a whisk to make? Once I have a whisk here I'd like to make home made mayo...possibly some flavored stuff, as my food processors whipping attachment just isn't capable of making it. Sure you can buy low quality brands of mayo here, but it's very expensive compared to the ingredients.

All of this is part of an expansion that I'm planning to do as a way to move into catering and hopefully a restaurant if the stars align for me. I'm putting together a business plan and a mock up menu for the restaurant idea, but as one can imagine getting hard numbers here is a bit tough. The idea though is to have a place/person that people can go to to get authentic North American style food, which is currently completely lacking in this city. I think there is a ton of potential for this, but there are some good sized hurdles too. Getting quality beef cuts in a Hindu country isn't as easy as walking down to the local butcher...I think it's still a crime to kill a cow. Cheeses such as Monterey Jack, Colby, Sharp Cheddars, Provolone, Swiss and Blue Cheese will all have to be imported (by the way I compared prices and it's half the price per unit weight to import through Harilo as it is to buy at Bhat Betini). Fountain drinks aren't the norm here and most people use bottles, but figuring out how to get fountain drink machines running here could mean a good size reduction in price and that would allow for free refills, which is something that is lacking and drives me crazy here. Then there is the whole planning prep in a country that is often lacking electricity and thus consistent access to refrigeration.

It's the difficulty though that I find attractive, because if you can solve the puzzle it's almost sure to turn a profit. It's a design and tuning issue, a combination of balancing numbers, creativity and quality. That kind of thing I've always found attractive, and it's the kind of thing I can throw all my time into and be perfectly happy doing so. So if you happen to be in Kathmandu, I'll be having more than just salsa available in the future. Hopefully soon I'll have something put together for catering, and I'll post all the info here. Until then may we all dream of six different kinds of Buffalo wings.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Faith as Virtue in Buddhism

As someone who is very interested in virtue based ethics I've always found it odd that Buddhism, a philosophy that by everything I have read holds skepticism in high regard, would hold faith as a virtue. Faith is one of those ideals that some people claim is a good thing, but I most often completely fail to see how this is the case. Faith by definition often asks us to hold a belief about a thing on which we have next to no evidence and cannot verify by any quantitative means. Sometimes faith asks us to hold positions that are in direct opposition to each other and ignore the inconsistencies. In short faith often acts as a lazy way to believe what we are told we should and ignore any evidence to the contrary.  On these grounds I usually respond to the concept of faith with a fairly negative view and am highly skeptical of it's value when I see it listed as a human virtue. So while reading some Pali texts recently I was a bit dismissive at first of the attempts to frame faith as a human virtue.

The problem with reading much of these older texts, be they Greek or Buddhist, is that I'm reading English translations. While English is a very diverse language there are several concepts that it often fails to accurately capture or convey. At other times, many of our words carry a certain amount of historical or social baggage that distorts the actual connotation in which the original author was conveying the concept being discussed. This is, in my opinion, what seems to be the case with Buddhist faith. Because really faith isn't the right word, and this slowly became apparent as I read more into the sutras. A much better translation would be trust, not unfounded blind faith, but a trust that is gained through reason and deduction, observation and analysis.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Long Hard Slog: Jiri to Lukla

A couple weeks ago Donnie and I set out to walk in to Everest from the old starting point of Jiri. It's old because most people fly into Lukla these days and the walk in from Jiri makes the trek longer by almost a week for most people, and that is if you plan on flying out. The views over this portion of the trail can be nice, but it pales in comparison to what you see in the upper Khumbu, the valley that is home to Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam and Everest. On top of this, instead of heading up a large valley this route is hard slog that takes you up and over several passes as you cut across four different valleys before reaching the Khumbu valley itself. In fact you gain and lose so much elevation that by the time you reach base camp you have climbed more than the equivalent elevation as if you had gone to the very top of Everest from sea level, almost 30,000'. Still despite the difficulties and the lack of breath taking snow covered peaks walking in from Jiri is in my opinion worth it and offers some things you just don't get on the rest of the trek.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Packing for a Tea House Trek in the Himalaya

 Recently a reader asked me how I possibly got my pack down to 8.5 KG (just under 20 pounds) including water and I realized that I have never really gone over what I pack when I go trekking in the Himalaya. That said I'll take this opportunity to correct that oversight and go over some basic things I do and bring to keep my pack weight down on the trail. Of course there is some variation on what you will bring depending on the season, if you need cold weather gear, or if you actually need a sleeping bag because of the scarcity of blankets due to peek season. What follows are mostly general rules of thumb. I am not one of these ultra light people who spend more time on forums discussing the advantages of drilling holes in your toothbrush to reduce its weight than actual trekking, I try to strike a decent balance between comfort and getting my pack down to a manageable weight that has minimal effect on slowing me down on the trail.

Rule # 1- pack end of the day clothes in a separate watertight container like a Sea to Summit bag. This is the biggest luxury I afford myself on the trek, I always pack one set of clothes that I never actually wear while trekking and they never mix with the sweaty dirty clothes that fill the rest of my bag. I find I can trek through any conditions as long as I know at the end of the day I have something I can change in to and feel like I'm something resembling a civilized human being. This set of clothes includes one pair of comfortable socks, lightweight synthetic pants like wind pants or imitation zip offs, a tee shirt, light weight fleece, and a pair of boxers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Everest, Moving, Cooking

So I got back from my trip to Everest Base Camp a few days ago but haven't had a chance to post on here. While I was gone we moved to a new apartment a couple blocks away from where we had been and the internet isn't quite hooked up yet. We have been using these nifty USB connection things put out by Ncell, but they get used up by the amount of data you download, so I've been rather sparing with it. Should have our internet connection back up and working today though, I think.

So the trip up to Everest went really well and I'll have photos and some more detailed posts soon. We walked from Jiri to Lukla in four days, had some pizza at Khumbu lodge, and then made our way to base camp after a rest day in Namche and a few shorter acclimatization days on the way up the track. The upside of this trip was crystal clear skies, the clearest weather I've had up that way. The downside was that it was quite cold, and on the day we planned on heading toward the Cho La we got hit with a decent snow storm that kept us from crossing the pass and even made the high trail to Phortse questionable so instead we just headed back to Kathmandu. Still, I got some of my best photos of Ama Dablam, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and others that I've ever been able to get. Donnie even got to drink his Everest Beer at Everest Base Camp.

While we were gone, as I mentioned, Kim got us moved into a new apartment. This ones a two bed, two bath, with a full living room dining room and a nice kitchen with a pantry. In an attempt to move to something that comes closer to resembling the first world we even bought a washing machine, so no more laundry by hand. This place is on another dead end street so it's still quiet for Kathmandu, which is a big bonus. Marble floors, moldings on the ceiling, and a bedroom almost as big as our last apartment has me feeling like we moved into a palace, but the electricity black outs sure enough remind you that we are indeed still in Kathmandu. Still we've been able to run the projector off the inverter and have been watching the first few seasons of Dexter at night while munching on whatever food I've been experimenting with. Hellfire wings a couple nights ago, various pasta sauces the night before and a blue cheese based yogurt dressing with a huge salad last night.

Which brings me to the final part of this update, new food and cooking. I'm planning on expanding what I sell at the market by a significant amount. The plan is to include the south west style pulled chicken, pulled pork, at least two different pasta sauces and a marinara sauce if I can get my hands on any red bell pepper, along with a hot sauce, some Greek style yogurt dip, and maybe a few other items. I'll also expand to pesto, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and possibly a Buffalo pulled chicken with blue cheese once I get some supplies from the states. The aim of all of this is to not only produce a bit more income, but to gage interest in a few items as I possibly start working toward putting a restaurant together. The big question mark is of course the up front financial investment, let alone figuring out how to get fresh beef in a Hindu country, how to keep prep refrigerated in a country that is without power more often than it has power, where to get things like fryolators, fountain drink machines and the gas that goes with them as well as syrup, and how you could motivate a staff of south Asians to run an American style restaurant. Starting the process of looking into all of it anyway, and in the meantime putting together some new recipes. 
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