Monday, 31 October 2011

Why I had to unfriend Steve.

OK, this might be a weird one. But it is Halloween, after all. A tad of spookiness is totally allowed and even to be expected. 

So, as you know, I was told that my magazine editor died a few days ago. It was pretty shocking. But, somehow, it was even more shocking and more difficult to believe because the Steve I knew was a virtual person, so to speak. I was told he was dead and yet, I could see his emails in my in-box and a part of me kept expecting another one to pop up on my screen. 

I shared the news of Steve’s death with a fellow blogger; and the next day, she messaged me on Facebook. 

‘It might sound crazy...’, she said, 'but is he really dead? Because I got a notification that he just shared some article on his partner’s wall???!  What if we got it wrong, what if he is still alive?’ 

And even though I knew for a fact that he was not, the question did not seem that crazy to me, somehow. When you know someone only by email and Facebook; it  feels they are still around. In a spooky kind of way.

Following the message, I looked at Steve’s wall; and, surely enough, there he was. With two recent activities. Alright-one was quite understandable- someone accepted his friend request. Accepted it  too late, not knowing the person was no longer alive. But another one was an article from the Guardian, shared, as claimed by facebook, by Steve himself.  Recent activity. Hours ago. 

Hours ago? The man has been dead for days.

Today, friends shared the news on his page, RIP messages started appearing...

It made me think about the virtual lives we live online. If you have a facebook page, a twitter account or a blog, how long before your friends and followers realize you are gone forever? How long will Steve live online?  What happens to our virtual selves when the real ones suddenly pass away? 

Looking through Steve’s recently tagged photos and activities made me feel uncomfortable. A little circle next to his name read Steve is unavailable. Of course, he is unavailable. He is dead. 

I scrolled to ‘Unfriend’. RIP, Steve. Someone has to close your FB  page.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Steve Hollier.

Steve Hollier, Editor of AZ Magazine in Baku, died a few days ago of a heart attack. 
Only that morning we exchanged emails discussing the next issue of the magazine, what he wanted for my column, exchanging jokes about life and the blog...and then, that very evening, someone suddenly Skyped me with the sad news. It did not even register in my brain straight away. You always think 'that is just not possible?!' But, sadly, it is. 
My condolences to Steve's partner and his family, and everybody at  AZ Magazine; who are, I am sure, in a state of a complete shock.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Azeri guide to using Facebook

I am so excited for my Azeri countrymen, especially those who have money.

I just realized that their lives have been enriched dramatically with Facebook. 

But, clearly, some of the rich and powerful Azeris quickly discovered that, besides all the obvious ways, such a sharing news and photos and keeping in touch, Facebook can be utilized as a perfect, lethal weapon to spread envy and jealousy amongst everyone they vaguely know, by showing off just how rich they are. Or, more probably, just how rich they want all those 1,000 friends to think they are. 

Recently I witnessed a few discussions on Facebook which made me realize just how useful the whole social network tool is for those who like to show off a little. Of course, I am not talking about my friends. The joy of Facebook is that every time someone who is my friend comments on their friend’s photo or news, it shows up for the rest of us to see.

So, with slight changes added to avoid personal insults, which I, of course, would not want to make too obvious for the sake of people I know and like, here is one extract from a spot- the-Nouveau riche- Azeri discussion:

She puts a photo of herself in a pretty dress at some event.  Someone compliments her.

‘Oh, sis,’ she replies, ‘thank you! You can’t go wrong with Versace!

Nicely done. To someone maybe even subtly. The meaning of the word is not easily translated into different cultures.

Another very good example was two girls, both originally from Baku, discussing things that, at first glance, were perfectly innocent.

Ha, says one girl, check this crazy car out! Who would want to spend so much money on a Range Rover in this colour? 

Her friend comes into the conversation. 

- Why, honey, what colour is yours?
 -Black, of course! What about yours?
- Mine’s white, honey!

OK, we all know they have expensive cars. Good for them. But you see, without Facebook, only people who live near them would know about their cars. This way, thanks to Facebook, people all around the world know about them, too. Isn’t that cool? Instead of 10 neighbours in Baku, hundreds of people abroad can be impressed by their cars, too!

But the best conversation I witnessed recently was two girls discussing their plans to meet up at a very short notice in New York. A friend of mine was excited as she clearly has not seen them both for a while, and was getting ready to have a drink or two when they arrive. Look, she told me, how free and rich they are! They can just jump on planes and meet in NY, in one of the most expensive hotels in the city?! Honestly, she said, isn't it amazing? I looked at the discussion thread. It went on for a while. Which hotel and what restaurants the girls were planning to eat at, were publicly discussed. My first question was why would two friends, knowing each other’s email addresses, and telephone numbers, have a long and detailed discussion of their planned weekend extravaganza in front of everyone else? 

OK, maybe email is too old-fashioned for them. But there is an option of  private messaging on Facebook, too. Of course, when my friend in NY got stood up because nobody actually arrived, it all got perfectly clear. Told you, I said to my friend, they were not really planning to fly to NY for a weekend, each from a different country far away, just to meet up for a posh dinner. But now everyone on Facebook thinks they were.

What was, in theory, designed to share news is now a tool to share the signs of wealth. Designer dresses, expensive cars, hotel destinations...all you need to do is tag your location and everyone will know you ate at the world-famous restaurant, or had a luxury holiday. Quick, easy and effective way to make all those virtual friends jealous. Perfect for Azeris and everyone else who loves to let everyone know just how well they are doing. Even if it is all just on the surface.

Monday, 17 October 2011

About a disputed territory. Not Nagorniy Karabakh, but one small balcony.

You might have noticed that I have not added any sketches recently. That is not because I am so lazy these days. OK, it is somewhat because I am a bit lazy these days. But mainly, it is because someone ( i.e. Husband) switched our broadband to a different provider and did not bother to figure out how to connect the printer/scanner to the new router.  You might ask what about you? Can’t you sort it out? The answer is maybe I could. But I don’t think a married woman needs to work things like that out by herself. What is the point, may I ask you, of having a husband, if you then have to worry about connecting printers to wireless routers? 

Anyway. I had to tell you this to explain why the following two sketches look a bit bizarre. I would hate for you to think the quality of this blog is deteriorating. I really wanted to illustrate this posting, and the only way I could do it was to take the pictures of my sketches by the phone and email them to myself. Very complicated but here you go.

My mother, as you might know, was here for a little (?) while, enjoying the new baby and kindly helping me stay sane during the first few months. While she was here, there was some vigorous construction activity all around her flat in Baku. Baku is all about construction activities these days, from what I hear. The neighbour above was extending his balcony and enclosing it- a typical Bakuvian way of adding an extra room in one’s flat. In the meantime, the neighbour next to my mother was also enclosing his balcony. Right in between my mother’s and the next door neighbour’s balconies there was this weird empty bit of space, which, according to my mother (and I of course, believe her) was technically hers.  There, for many years going back to the times my grandmother owned the flat, was a very large, very heavy metal trunk. See the sketch.

I guess an equivalent of a shed, speaking in my British suburb terms.  Upon her return to Baku, my mother found the trunk had been lifted out of its usual place, and chucked into her balcony. There is lies right now, huge and heavy, making it impossible for my mother to even walk out on the balcony. In the space where the trunk used to be there now is a large pole, which neighbours above built to support their new extension. 
Like this. 
Now, the neighbours next door are not happy.  They had their own plans for my mother’s territory, you see. They were planning to erect the side wall for their new balcony there, making their space nice and big.
The neighbours are now fighting. 

This is where an English mind faces a challenge. Husband was confused. 

 ‘What about a planning permission? Don’t those people need a planning permission in order to build something like that in a block of flats? ‘ 

I laughed. She should ask them to pay her at least, Husband suggested, trying to put his Azeri thinking hat on.  But sadly, none of his suggestions would work in a country where two neighbours can fight over your bit of balcony. Well, they promised to remove the trunk soon, mother told me happily today. She does not believe in aggressive solutions to problems with neighbours. Now, you tell me. What would you do, if you were a single woman living in a country like this?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Introducing Feride- The Goddess of Azeri cuisine.

As promised, here is the chat with Feride, a cool girl from Baku that I met via blogging and became virtual friends with. Hope you enjoy; and don't forget to buy her book when she gets it published! I tried to keep it casual. Imagine sipping chay from samovar, like in the picture above, asking her all sorts of questions....

Q: Of course, let’s start from the beginning, as it is a good place to start. Where did the idea of your food blog come from? Have you always been a good cook? Who taught you?

A: The idea to blog came to me 4 years ago when I also had a spontaneous and crazy idea to write a cookbook on Azerbaijani cuisine. There was no extensive English language resource on Azerbaijani food and I decided to venture into the untapped.  I tend to think that I can handle more than I actually can, so the two projects started and stuck with me, for which I am happy as I love them both! I wanted to share my love for food with people out there, and also let the world know that there is a country named Azerbaijan where food is amazing. 

I rarely cooked back in Azerbaijan. All the cooking was done by my mom and she even packed lunch for work for me when I was well into my twenties. This is rather normal in Azerbaijan where typically the young are spoiled with homemade food  and are forced to learn only after they marry. The same applied to me. In my case it was even more difficult as I moved overseas. I brought with me my recipe notebook (I've been fascinated with recipes and collected them since I was about 13 but rarely cooked with them) and began to experiment, I called my mom, my sister, my aunt asking for more recipes, tips and hints. I slowly honed my skills and learned by making mistakes and a big mess in the kitchen.  I am still a student in learning. There is a lot to learn. 

Q: You are originally from Baku. Can you tell us where in the USA you live now, how you ended up there; and what foods did you discover in the US that you did not know about back in Baku that you really like now? What is your American favourite?  Also, what do you miss the most (food wise) from Azerbaijan? 

A: I live in the city of Long Beach (county of Los Angeles), California. where I ended up after marrying - my husband worked in the U.S. My American favorite is hot chicken wing, barbecue, and apple pie for the dessert.  What I miss from Baku? I guess the taste of foods - I can easily find substitutes for most ingredients, but some are simply more flavorful there. I particularly like Azerbaijani lamb and country raised chicken. I miss bazars, I miss tea around samovar in the lush green countryside, and I miss chats around big and hospitable Azerbaijani tables. 

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your blogging? I know you are trying to get your book out there. What is the next big project, after the book and your TV program

A: My ultimate goal of blogging is just to share my love for anything food related. I’ve always loved food and to me, the best part of enjoying it is when it is shared, whether around a table, or virtually by means of recipes.  I think part of my love for food is posted online with every single recipe. My book is a different project. Of course, my blog helped me spread the word about the book and this is great. I have tons of other project ideas cooking in my head and I will tell you more about them after they have cooked completely.

Q: Do you find food sexy? Clearly, some people do. Think the erotic food play in the 9& 1/2 weeks. And don’t even get me started on Nigella Lawson. Also, do you believe in the aphrodisiac power of certain foods, say, oysters?
A: Let me begin by saying that I cannot relate the word “sexy” to food at all. To me, the two words simply to not belong together. As to aphrodisiac power of some foods, I am certainly no expert in this and do not apply these powers into my cooking, but I read that it is real, and as the name suggests, the belief came with ancient Greeks.   

Q: What would be your most romantic dinner?
A: A dinner definitely not cooked by me! Perhaps a surprise dinner, regardless of place.

Q: Besides the Azeri dishes, of course, what national cuisine is your favourite and why?

A: I love to experiment with different cuisines. Because we are a Turkish-Azerbaijani family, I cook from both cuisines equally. I love Turkish cuisine  - it is immensely vast if I can say so, so varied, different, colourful, healthy, delicious. I also love Thai cuisine for its exotic flavours. But I also love many other cuisines, because they all have something delicious to offer. 

Q: Our (Azeri) national cuisine is not particularly healthy, don’t you think? We use an awful lot of butter, fat and salt. You look very slim in your photos! Unless those are cleverly photo-shopped, you must eat very healthily. How do you manage that? What would be your typical breakfast, lunch and dinner? 

A: We do love butter, don’t we! But I think it is up to a cook to control the amount of fat that goes into his or her plate and the young are more conscious about their fat intake. I keep relative slim only because I exercise. I put on weight easily as I have a grand appetite that is not easy to control. I wouldn’t say I am extremely health conscious and that I count calories, but I do try to cook healthy as much as I can. I am not a breakfast person, which is not something to be proud of. On a typical day my breakfast would include a cup of black tea with a small slice of toast slathered with jam and that is pretty much it.  My lunch is usually quick as I work – a bowl of soup that I made early in the morning or the night before, or a sandwich or a salad that I fix on the go. Dinner is a family tradition and it can range from light or substantial depending on the cook’s availability and mood.

Q: I have a child who is quite fussy, sadly, in what she eats and still prefers fish fingers and pasta to a family shared meal. What do your children eat? Do you cook separately for them or do you all eat together? Having grown up in the US, do your kids prefer American food to Azeri dishes, or did you manage to introduce them to Azeri/Russian dishes?

A: I cannot imagine cooking separately for my kids. They, aged 8 and 4, eat whatever I cook for everybody. Take it or leave it- that’s how cruel their mom is. But of course, there are certain things that they do not like – eggplant, things too garlicky and other not so kid-appealing foods. They eat Azerbaijani, Turkish and American with equal gusto! J Ask them what their favourite food is, they will say dushbere (little dumplings soup) or yarpag dolmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and of course, they have to pick the most time consuming dishes for their already time-deprived mom to cook. But I don’t mind as I love both dishes too. 

Q: As a blogger, you must occasionally get nuisance comments. I would struggle to think that you could offend anyone with your beautiful recipes and photos, but you ever get hate mail/comments/ blog trolls? Tell us more about those and how you chose to deal with them.

A: Feedback I receive on my recipes is largely positive. My readers are supportive of my blog and they are my source of encouragement. I do get very few negative comments here and there and by these I do not mean constructive criticism type of comments. I do not like rude people who just want to attack for no obvious reason, so I really have nothing to say to these people. I was a lot more sensitive to such in the beginning, but not any more. Generally speaking, I love my readers. I feel I am connected with them in some ways. If they didn’t read and use my recipes, I wouldn’t be blogging. It would be fun to meet them all in person one day. 

Q: Finally, tell us more about your book. What will it be like? 

A: The more I talk about my book, the more its publication is postponed! I am not sure when it will be eventually published.  It will be part culture, part history, part ethnography, part recipes, part my stories – a little bit of everything written with love to make one big whole that I hope readers will enjoy and appreciate.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Hey, Fatty Boom Boom

As I am sitting on my sofa, barely able to breathe after the enormous dinner, I am idly toying with the thoughts of ways to start losing this post-baby weight. 

Tonight I managed to consume:

  • Grilled aubergines with garlic which by themselves are not terribly unhealthy, if not for the salt my mother covered them with. At least 10 slices.
  • Five chicken burgers. Before you think whatever you might think of me, they are pretty flat and small. 
  •  Two slices of Tarte au citron my mother attempted to make for the first time in her life and succeeded.
  • A  cup of decaf coffee to wash down the above.
So...No, I have not got anyone else to blame for the extra pounds but myself. I use breastfeeding as an excuse. Despite the common idea that breastfeeding helps you lose weight; I personally put it on if I have a small baby to feed. I feel constantly hungry, like Shelob, and turn into an animal, with no will power to stop.

But the problem is, besides the Korova Milkbar situation, is that I love food. I love everything about food. The glass of vino, the company, the conversation, the going out or staying in...I love breakfasts and I adore dinners. I love carbs. I love meat. I love BBQ and I love deserts...I guess what I am saying is I am destined to get fat. 

The problem with it is not just my health, or my husband leaving me for a slim model one day. It is also that from what I noticed in the UK, most of the posh ladies are slim. It is not the same back home. You can easily get away with being slightly overweight, and still be seen as posh, elegant or successful. In the UK, majority of ladiiiies are slim. I noticed that fat women in this country are usually poor. Or common. Or, very often, a bit of both.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that it should be the other way around. But of course, it is cheaper to eat unhealthily. It is a lot easier to buy cheap ready meals, or a McDonald's rather than a whole sea bass or a fillet steak. It is also probably caused by feeling low about being poor, and having nothing to do with yourself but get fatter. What, however, is more fascinating to me, is that a typical lower class fat woman in the UK is almost always accompanied by a very skinny bloke. How does that work? What happens that makes a poor woman bigger and a poor guy skinnier? I have no answer to this question; however I have nothing to worry about. Fortunately for me, my husband is (really) not that skinny, and I am (really) not that fat. Yet. 

Anyway. The reason I am going on about being fat is because I really enjoy eating a lot right now. And eating a lot right now made me think about the next blog post which is coming very soon. I am excited to be hosting a fellow blogger, a very talented and clever girl who is also from Baku but lives in the USA and runs a wonderful azeri food blog. I thought I have not hosted anyone here for ages, and you guys need someone else to occasionally bring some sanity to these pages. For a bit of healthy balance. Feride will visit very soon, and will be like a green salad to go with my burger and chips questions.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A beautiful, sophisticated, not at all corrupt but very democratic, accepting and tolerant Azeri.

OK. For some reason, the name of this blog, scary azeri, really winds some azeris up. 

I can only assume that they feel insulted that those two words are being used in the same sentence. Somehow, in their little defected minds, it insults not only the whole nation, but also them personally and possibly, their mothers, too when I use the words Scary and Azeri so close to each other.

So let me explain. This is my blog. I called myself a Scary Azeri. Not you. Not your mother. Not your great grandmother. Not your president, or his wife. Not any other azeris, not even some really scary ones. 

I called the blog scary azeri because it rhymes. Why not? What would you prefer, I am just curious, that I called it? A Hairy Azeri was not bad, either, but I have a personal problem with that. 

But seriously, I am curious if those guys would prefer that I named the blog something like a Beautiful Azeri. Or a Sophisticated Azeri.  If I did that, would that make them happy? Because, according to their logic, whatever I dare to call my own blog reflects badly on the whole glorious nation. So I must not call it something disrespectful. I must change it to something that would make more idiots want to attend Eurovision 2012, even after the 9mln boxing medal bribe fiasco with the Olympic Committee. See what happens if you are not generous enough? Should have offered 9,5!! And, since all self-glorifying nations love long and pompous names, I should probably rename the blog to something like

A beautiful, sophisticated, not at all corrupt but very democratic, accepting and tolerant Azeri. 

Now, that’s better.

Anyway, on a separate topic, but still within the scary theme ... this lovely sunny morning, when I got up at 7am to breastfeed in the living room, I saw a proof that ghosts exist. 

It is really disturbing. Look, in this one photo it looks like he is trying to tell me something about this poor girl.

She has no idea this semi-transparent perv  is lurking right next to her. How spooky??? And in this other shot, he is trying to get out of the TV!
I showed the photos to Husband. Just to shake his atheist beliefs a little. Maybe get him to question things a bit more, you know?

‘Looks like a sign language guy to me’, Husband said dismissively. Why does he always have to do that?!