Tuesday, November 29, 2011

30 Before 30: Week One Update

Wow. Since announcing my goal to generate 30 new Kiva loans before my 30th birthday, I have been overwhelmed by the response from family, friends, and strangers (well, strangers no more!).

In just one week, my lending team, Claudine's 30 Loans Before Turning 30, has grown from one to 14 members, and together we have made 22 loans totaling $550. In one week! Okay, so I still have a long way to go before ever catching our friend Bob Harris, whose Friends of Bob Harris lending team is currently ranked 7th overall and to date has lent over 49,500 loans totaling more than $1.33 million. Now that deserves a real WOW.

Bob Harris aside, we have to start somewhere, right? And I'm pretty excited about our progress over the last several days. For example, we're currently helping entrepreneurs in 15 different countries. Take a look at the country breakdown below.

The country diversity is awesome, and I am especially excited that we already have one of the elusive, hard-to-find Nepal loans (hats off to Frank from the Netherlands who snapped up that one).

But our loans are, at the moment, heavily concentrated in the Asia region.

I wonder if we can up the ante for North America, Central America, Africa, and the Middle East? Or how about Eastern Europe?

Our lending team is also heavily favoring women, with 77.27% going to female entrepreneurs.

Interestingly, this statistic is close to Kiva's overall lending rate to women, which is 80.63%. After working with Kiva's Nepal partner BPW Patan, a women-only microfinance institution, I am always thrilled to see loans go to women. Just don't forget that men are also frequently excluded from formal financial institutions due to lack of collateral, remote locations, and a host of other factors, so microfinance is crucial for men too.

Of course, I am excited about any loan that you choose to fund on Kiva and, if you're so inclined, to credit to my lending team. Thanks to everyone who has already made loans on my behalf, and thank you in advance to anyone who loans in the future! Stay tuned for more updates.

Adventurers of the Year

National Geographic is running a contest to name the Adventurer of the Year 2012. While at certain moments in the last year I have felt like the world's great adventurer, I was not included as a finalist. Then again, in past years I felt that some of my outings into the bitter cold of Chicago's winter qualified me, so perhaps I am not the best judge on this front. Still, National Geographic is letting me judge and vote. No question which Nepalis get my ballot.

Photo: Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa and Sano Babu Sunuwar
Source: adventure.nationalgeographic.com

Meet Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tseri Sherpa. Why do they look so happy? As National Geographic reports, they managed to summit Mt. Everest, paraglide down, and kayak their way through whitewater rapids to the Ganges River and on to the Indian Ocean. Starts to make your heroic dash to catch the bus this morning a little pathetic, no?

I love so many details of their story: their lack of climbing experience or ability to swim, the run in with gigantic red "scorpions," the robbery at knife point. Perhaps my favorite anecdote is that going airborne from the highest peak in the world was the highlight of their journey. Says Lakpa, "I like to sing while I fly. We were very happy. We were both singing. This was a dream for both of us." Is it just me, or can you totally see these two singing and paragliding through the mountains? (Which song?!) How can they not earn your vote for Adventurers of the Year?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Recipe: No Bake Skillet Bread Pudding

I hope that all of our American readers had a happy Thanksgiving. We had a great holiday and enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with new friends, complete with pumpkin and pecan pies. We learned that the U.S. Embassy commissary stocks good ol' Libby's canned pumpkin and pecans for such important occasions -- thank goodness, indeed!

Over the weekend I had another food revelation: stuffing is really just a savory bread pudding or, if you prefer, bread pudding is just a sweet version of stuffing. Following the success of my skillet apple crumble and then a steamed stovetop stuffing for Thanksgiving (not the boxed brand -- please give me some credit here), I decided to try making a stovetop bread pudding with a bit of leftover stale bread that we had lying around.

Well, friends, let me just say that this recipe amazed us and may finally get me to stop complaining about not having an oven for baking. Because who needs an oven when you can make this?!

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I loosely based my creation on this recipe for a campfire bread pudding. Cooking in Nepal = cooking in the wilderness? On some days, maybe.

No Bake Skillet Bread Pudding

This recipe makes an excellent dessert or breakfast reminiscent of French toast. It is a great way to use up stale bread, especially the day after Thanksgiving. I created a distinctly un-sweet version, using only banana jam for a sweetener. If you want a very sweet dish, consider adding up to one-third cup of maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar to the bread mix before cooking. A note on cooking time: it may depend on your stove settings, so I suggest you check the pudding every so often to ensure that the bottom is browning, not burning. 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings


1 1/2 cups milk, plus additional for drizzling (I used coconut milk, but almond, soy, or dairy milk, if you prefer, would also work well)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups of cubed whole grain bread, preferably stale
2 egg yolks (for a vegan version, substitute chia seed eggs or flax seed eggs)
1/2 cup banana jam
1 large banana, sliced
Coconut oil (or other) for greasing pan


1. Heat milk in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
2. Place bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. When milk is hot but not yet simmering, pour milk over bread cubes. Mix gently.
3. Stir in egg yolks and banana jam, mixing gently until well combined. Fold in banana slices.
4. Heat 6-inch nonstick skillet over low-medium heat. Lightly grease with coconut oil. Pour bread mixture into pan and cover.
5. Cook bread pudding covered for 15 minutes, or until bottom is browned. Then flip entire pudding onto a plate and put pudding back in skillet, uncooked side down. Cook for an additional 10 minutes or until golden brown.
6. Scoop bread pudding into bowls. If you like, drizzle with a bit of coconut milk and honey or maple syrup. It is best served hot.

A close-up -- the bread pudding is still steaming.

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It is delicious on its own.

But even better with a drizzle of coconut milk.

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The final result.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here, a brief photo essay of two very different but equally wonderful Thanksgivings.

Chicago: a chilly, bundled 8k Turkey Trot.

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Kathmandu: A trot at 70 degrees with sunny skies. Plus a fantastic Thanksgiving yoga podcast.

Chicago: Turkey.

Kathmandu: Vegan brown rice pilaf with chickpeas, pumpkin, and walnuts.

Chicago: Skyscraper skyline.

Kathmandu: Himalayan skyline.

What a year it has been...

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

30 Before 30

Well, the cat's out of the bag now. For those readers who are not my family and close friends, I'll clue you in: I will turn 30 on January 8, 2012.

Until now, I have not given a whole lot of thought to this significant birthday. When it comes to contemplating my age, my most common emotions fall into the category of "I can't believe how long ago that was" realizations (as in: Nirvana's Nevermind came out TWENTY years ago?! It feels like just yesterday when I was wearing my Limited Too flannel shirts, otherwise known as my sixth-grade girl attempt at Seattle grunge cool).

What I realize now is that even though I do not feel terribly depressed or scared about turning 30 (so I think), my sheer disbelief about this birthday's imminent arrival must mean something. What, I'm not sure, and I don't care to ruminate too deeply about it. But I think that I cannot ignore my 30th much longer: I must do something to ring in this next decade with a bang.

Lots of people have tackled "30 Before 30" lists -- often a very random assortment of must-dos, from the mundane "paint all the trim in my house" to the self-improving "learn how to speak Zulu" to the daredevil "motorcycle across Vietnam. In the nude." I think such lists are great, but I think that I am a little late for this game. With only 46 days until my birthday, my "30 Before 30" list would be pretty boring. On second thought, I'm just going to chalk up this whole quit-my-job-and-move-to-Nepal thing as one big answer to such a list. Hah!

But I still think I should do something for my birthday. I have no real desire for things, much less a way to physically receive such gifts (assuming we are talking American retailers here and not Bhat-Bhateni supermarket down the street). For that matter, I also have no good place to put more things because we already have over 30 boxes of things sitting in storage (just ask my in-laws).

So instead of things, how about this: Kiva loans. To celebrate my 30th birthday, I am going to try to generate 30 new loans on www.kiva.org. I will make a loan, and Brian will make a loan, but that still leaves me with 28 loans to fund, and this is where you all come in. If for any reason you were considering getting me a gift for my birthday, I humbly request that you lend to a Kiva borrower instead. Or maybe I don't know you at all and you're thinking "why in the world would I get this blogger a birthday gift?" (fair enough), but maybe you feel inspired to fund a Kiva loan anyway -- then how about you do so in my honor? Or perhaps you are one of those Kiva superlenders with thousands of dollars constantly moving in and out of your portfolio, and instead of lending to your usual lending team, such as Women Who Lend to Shirtless Men, you decide to credit one or more of your loans to my lending team. In addition, once your loan is repaid (which happens 98.93% of the time), you can choose to keep the cash, rendering this gift effectively free (though I suspect you will find yourself wanting to relend as most Kiva lenders do).

What do you think? Can we do it? I think we can!

Here's how it works:

1. If you are a new Kiva user, set up an account. If you are an old hat at Kiva, log in.
2. Go to my lending team page, Claudine's 30 Loans Before Turning 30, and click "Join Team" to become a member.
3. Go to the Kiva loan page and select a borrower for your loan.
4. After adding your selected loan to your basket, you will see a drop-down menu called "Apply to Lending Team" on the left side of the screen. Select "Claudine's 30 Loans Before Turning 30."
5. Click "Continue" and check out.
6. If you are a social networker, share your loan on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe you'll inspire a new Kiva lender.
7. After your loan is eventually repaid (did I mention Kiva has a repayment rate of almost 99%?), consider lending again. And again.

I kicked off this lending campaign with my own loan to Dionisio, a cacao and stevia farmer in Peru (where my brother-in-law is moving next month!). This loan was not only my first South America loan but also my first green loan. Happy birthday to me!

Thank you in advance for any Kiva loans that you make on my behalf. I, Kiva, and Kiva's hard-working entrepreneurs around the world appreciate your generosity.

Return to Champa Devi

Claudine's last encounter with hiking to the peak of Champa Devi was back in early February before I arrived in Kathmandu. Since my arrival, we had managed to top three of the four highest peak surrounding the city, but Champa Devi had eluded me. Visible from my apartment window, she stared at me every morning, reminding me of unfinished business. As for Claudine, she found the hike up Champa Devi challenging the first time around. With the benefit of many more peaks and two Himalayan treks under her belt, she was itching for a second go. Charged up with something to prove, we set out for the peak south of the city.

Of the four highest peaks, Champa Devi is perhaps the least convenient to reach. This is precisely why we have put it off until now. Those coming from Kathmandu will need to catch a 22 bus (heading toward Pharping) at the Old Bus Park downtown. We paid 27 NPR (about 30 cents) each for the hour-and-half bus trip there and oddly just 22 NPR for the return. The bus park is anything but calm and clean, and our arrival at the trail posed a welcome juxtaposition.

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From the trail head at the northern edge of Pharping, it is about a 30 minute walk up a relatively gentle sloping road to the Hattiban Resort. After passing the resort, the trail becomes increasingly steep and unfriendly to vehicle traffic. Try taking a motorcycle up these stairs.

The stone stairs may look intimidating from this vantage, but this last hump of trail takes only about 30 minutes. Thirty minutes on mother nature's Stairmaster may not sound like a picnic, but on clear days the views along the way are worth it.

The mountains weren't the only eye candy.

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We reached the peak a little less than two hours after embarking at the trail head. Champa Devi remained unfinished business no longer. Given the way that Claudine bounded up the stairs with no breaks, I think she was pleased with her performance on round two.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sangam Sweets

We have briefly covered Indian-style sweets on our blog before, but a proper post has been long overdue because these sweets are such a common fixture in this part of the world.

First things first: I hate the stuff. Although there are many different varieties, the basic components are milk and ghee (clarified butter). Dairy does not sit well with my stomach or my tastebuds, so, really, few things sound worse than a big glob of pungent milk and ghee laced with sugar. That said, I think the sweets are really beautiful, so I have been wanting to capture them in a series of photographs.

For this task we went straight to Sangam Sweets, which, to our limited knowledge, offers the widest selection and loveliest varieties in the city. Sangam Sweets is a full-service, "pure vegetarian" restaurant that specializes in South Indian cuisine (think dhosas, sambar, and thalis), and, unlike most restaurants in Kathmandu, has a fairly functional website -- a sure sign of supremacy in our book!

Plus, look at how pretty these are. Almost pretty enough to eat.

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Knowledgeable readers, help us out -- can you name and describe these sweets (flavors, ingredients) in the comments?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Favorite Things This Week

Perhaps the best week of the year is upon us Americans as Thanksgiving quickly approaches. I have so much to be thankful for that I have to start coming up with my list a week early. In preparation of the holiday, I am taking a page from Claudine's book and reflecting on my favorite things today. As much as we cannot forget to be grateful for the most important intangible things in life, living in the moment and appreciating the small everyday joys can be just as valuable. With that in mind, here is sampling of the things making my day today.

1. Bodum French Press

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Electric coffeemakers will not cut it in a country where you can live for months at a time with just ten hours of power per day. Immune to electricity shortages, the simple french press is every Kathmandu coffee lover's (and caffeine addict's) best friend. Unfortunately, these puppies are not immune to breakage -- we managed to go through three of the cheap ones we find in Kathmandu in as many months. Insult to injury: Nepal's supply of affordable french presses is about as reliable as its supply of power (word to the wise: always have a backup. As a friend remarked, "When in need of a french press, I am willing to pay with my youngest child."). We picked up this Bodum press while we were in the US in September, and its high-quality craftsmanship (no more drippy spout!) and vibrant shade bring cheer to me each morning. Being the vessel that delivers my daily jolt of rich Nepali coffee doesn't hurt its popularity, either.

2. Down Vest

Bonus: Claudine turned me into a fashion model for her photography homework.

The weather is cooling down here, and while our 70-degree afternoons still have me considering short sleeves, the chillier evenings often demand something warmer. Enter down vest. I never understood the use of vests before now -- if it's warm you should not need it, if cold, aren't sleeves preferable? -- but the Goldilocks not-too-hot-not-too-cold versatility of the vest has me wearing it all around town these days. Plus, it gets me one step closer to emulating childhood hero Marty McFly.

Next step: acquire denim shirt.
[photo credit: backtothefuture.wikia.com]

3. L.L.Bean's Wicked Good® Moccasins

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Accept no substitutes! Knowing that without central heating and proper insulation, Kathmandu homes can get quite chilly in winter, I invested in these bad boys before I moved. Have you ever microwaved a cloud and slipped it on your feet? Neither have I, but I am pretty sure I know what it must feel like thanks to these slippers. They were back-ordered for weeks when I ordered last winter. Totally worth the wait.

4. The Sopranos

[photo credit: pbs.org]

Am I a little late to the party on this one? Yes, yes I am. But, over a decade since its debut, this show still lives up to the hype. We do not own a TV, so we rely on DVDs on my laptop for our television entertainment fix (yes, this is all starting to sound very year 2000 -- what next, tips on hot dot-com stocks?). Sopranos is the latest series we find ourselves speed-watching in doses of no fewer than two episodes in one sitting. For all of you spoilers out there (eyes turn to my little brother who once ruined the end of the movie Seven for me -- Doug, I will never forget), we are only just beginning Season 3, so as Tony might say, "Keep your yaps shut!"

5. OneSeed Expeditions

OneSeed Expeditions

We recently met a former Kiva Fellow in Nepal, Chris Baker, who has continued his deep connection with the country by partnering with Nepalis and founding OneSeed Expeditions. For anyone looking to be more thoughtful about their travel, OneSeed is the answer. The company will not only guide you on amazing treks to the top of the world, but in the process will contribute to microloans for Nepali small-business entrepreneurs. In addition, OneSeed employs best practices that keep funds invested in local Nepali employees and their communities and incentivizes ecofriendly travel every step of the way. Chris and his team are passionate social entrepreneurs working to make sure you have an adventure that will not only change your life, but the lives of others in the process. Book now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recipe: No Bake Skillet Apple Crumble

With all the pumpkin this and sweet potato that floating around on food blogs, Pinterest, and every major media source these days, one might begin to suspect that we are approaching a major fall holiday. Thanksgiving, you say? Oh right.

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday in the history of all time, and yet, here in Kathmandu, I am finding it a bit challenging to marshall the Thanksgiving spirit. This has nothing to do with my thankfulness and everything to do with the fact that I do not have access to many of my favorite Thanksgiving food ingredients, like rutabaga, brussel sprouts, and Libby's canned pumpkin.

What was that about thankfulness? Oh, right. In fact, I am very thankful right now, and I am looking forward to Thanksgiving celebrations with new friends in Kathmandu, even as we miss friends and family and reminisce about past holidays in the States.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it's high time to get our kitchen on board with some fall flavors. Enter the No Bake Skillet Apple Crisp. Because, in addition to rutabaga, brussel sprouts, or Libby's canned pumpkin, we also have no oven.

This recipe is extremely easy, requiring just a few ingredients that you probably already have on hand and taking very little time. In fact, this little apple crisp is so simple and healthful that you can make it and eat it any time of day.

Now, it may not be the fanciest of apple crisps to grace your Thanksgiving table. It's not even particularly pretty. But will it do in a no-oven-kitchen, no-Whole-Foods-accessible-city, need-some-autumnal-spice-in-my-belly-stat pinch? Heck, yes.

Before we dig into the recipe, I just want to address one of the key ingredients: banana jam. I don't think we have discussed banana jam yet on this blog, and for that I am deeply sorry. Brian invented it and coined the term, so I give him full credit for this delicious use of bananas.

The recipe, if you can call it that, is this: peel banana, preferably slightly overripe to maximize sweetness; mash well with fork; toss in generous spoonful of cinnamon and a sprinkle of salt; and mix well. The result should look something like cinnamon applesauce. I swear that the combination of the fork mash and the cinnamon brings out an ethereal sweetness to the bananas. You can eat banana jam plain, but it is also wonderful on toast, chapati, pancakes -- the sky is the limit. Trust me on this and make.it.now.

Without further ado, the recipe.

No Bake Skillet Apple Crisp (vegan)

This simple apple crisp may be humble, but it is tasty and comforting. The recipe comes together in a flash, and it would be just as wonderful for breakfast as it is for dessert. Yogurt, ice cream or even banana soft serve would make excellent accompaniments. 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings


1 cup oats
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons coconut oil, liquified
1 cup banana jam (see above for directions)
1 apple, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped nuts


1. Heat a 10-inch non-stick skillet on medium-low. Mix oats, ground flax seed, salt, and coconut oil in the skillet and spread the oat mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan.
2. Spread banana jam on top of the oat mixture, and then sprinkle diced apples and chopped nuts on top of banana jam.
3. Cover skillet with lid and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes.
4. To serve, place a plate that is larger than the skillet on top of the pan and flip the entire skillet upside down onto the plate. Warning: this trick may result in a lopsided masterpiece (guilty as charged), but once you scoop servings into individual bowls, no one will be the wiser!

Ingredients assembled.

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A close-up of banana jam. It wins no awards in the looks department. But I assure you -- it is delicious.

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Ground flax seed adds some extra toastiness (and health benefits) to the recipe, but it is definitely not necessary.

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Similarly, you can easily skip the nuts (but why? Walnuts are so good!).

The dry ingredients toast in coconut oil.

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Banana jam is layered on top.

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Sprinkle on the apples and nuts.

Cover and cook and...voila.