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geography

The Fortified Villages of Khevsureti

Tucked away in the Caucasus Mountains in the north of Georgia, is the historic province of Khevsureti. Its men were once renowned in martial arts, and especially for their warfare with the Muslim population of the Northern Caucasus including the Chechens, the Kists, and the Dagestans.

Due to the geographic, ethnic and religious complexity and lack of industrialization in the Greater Caucasus, the tribes of the North Caucasus used to frequently attack and rob the mountain-dwelling Georgians. In order to protect their villages, Khevsurs built their houses very close to each other so that they formed a unified defensive wall. These villages played the crucial role of a northern barrier for the whole of Georgia and defended the nation from intrusions of nomadic tribes.

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The fortified village of Shatili. Photo credit: Levan Gokadze/Flickr

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Skip the Pizza and Make This Cheese-Stuffed Bread Instead

“With a little bit of practice, you can have a delicious gut bomb made from scratch in about an hour.”

So says Florian Pinel, who gave us this recipe for the Georgian (the country, not the state) cheese bread known as khachapuri

You think you know a thing or two about a fresh-baked crust filled with gooey mozzarella, right? Surely we must be talking about (what seems like) the most beloved food on Earth: pizza.

But imagine something a little fluffier, a little more buttery, with soft hunks of warm feta mixed into its cheesy interior and perhaps even a baked egg as a crown. Suppose that it came not from Italy, but from Georgia, the nation nestled on the border of Europe and Asia.

Intrigued yet? This is your new favorite snack: . And sure, it bears a passing resemblance to other cheesy breads you’ve favorited on Pinterest, but it’s also an edible phenomenon all its own.

Its crust is leavened to doughy perfection, and its shape is often more football-ish than round. And while we have nothing but mad love for pizza, a staggering 88 percent of Georgians would rather chow down on their beloved khachapuri. For good reason, we might add—it’s delicious.

RECIPE: Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)

On top of making your house smell like the cheese ward of carb heaven, this recipe is straightforward and simple with great rewards. Make a simple dough of flour, egg, yogurt, salt, and butter, let it rise, then stuff it with the double-whammy mozzarella-feta mixture. Bake it with an egg on top if you wish, for a little extra richness.

So skip the pizza tonight and make this instead. Your midnight dollar slice will still be there for you tomorrow.

Dallas Day 3

We did not know in advance that the big Christmas parade was taking place today. 350,000 people attended.
My favorite float was probably the Star Wars float. It was just cool to see so many stormtroopers. It was weird to have them right behind Spongebob, though. The local culture was reflected in the other groups, e.g. Blond women in cowboy hats and mini skirts, Hispanic women in Mayan garb

Checked out the Grassy Knoll and book depository where Kennedy was shot. Most tourist traps are sites of historic achievements. I had never been to a site of an assassination. One guy was following me around trying to get me to give him money for an impromptu tour. He kept talking about ‘the head shot’ and ‘the throat shot’. I found it tasteless.

Charles Rohlfs

The Dallas Museum of Art turned out to be one of the best museums (musea) I’ve been to – extensive collections of everything: art and artifacts from all continents and periods, organized by material, theme, region, etc.

One exhibit was the furniture of Charles Rohlfs. His wife was a mystery novelist and she often had her characters looking at evidence through microscopes. So she would know what she was talking about, she and Charles bought a microscope. Charles became interested in the structure of cellulose, the hydrocarbon that wood is. He took the shape of cellulose and replicated it in some of his pieces. The striking thing is that was in the 1880s and 90s. When I started reading the description and saw the furniture I assumed it was from the 50s or 60s.

I was walking from the museum, wondering where to go. I tried taking the light rail they have there but all of the ticket machines I tried were broken. My feet were starting to get tired and suddenly a trolley rolled up alongside me and the driver beckoned me aboard. The trolley was old and wooden (and real, running along rails) and it felt like something out of Harry Potter. The most remarkable thing was that it was free. The restaurants along McKinney avenue pay 5 cents for each rider that takes the trolley – cheap for them, but it brings business to that neighborhood

The restaurants we went to were okay, but not exceptional. One problem was the beer. Another was the bread. The craft beer culture that seems to be all over the east coast and northwest does not seem to have yet permeated Texas. Not only is beer bad in Texas, bread is as well. I an say with confidence that I have not had good bread in The South. There does not seem to be a culture of or an appreciation of good cheese either – all fermented things are out

Food generally like what I had in Iowa – flavored with salt and fat and gravy and ketchup. I miss food that has internal flavor: herbs and garlic that soaks in

Hard to find a bar that does not have lots of TVs. I want a bar with no TVs, but settle for one with only 10 or so

Texas is not exactly southern, the way Tennessee is, and is not exactly western, the way the Mountain states are.
One difference between southern culture and Texan culture seems to be that I frequently experienced people in Georgia pretending to be less intelligent than they were, particularly women. They would even, after making some error, say, “That’s just so southern of me!” or “What do you expect from a southern girl!” I never heard that kind of thing in Texas – not that Texans are any different in intelligence, but there’s so much pride here that they don’t belittle themselves like that.

In one conversation, a local claimed that “just as Atlanta is trying to be the New York of the south, Dallas wants to be the Chicago of the south.” Apparently Dallas recently lost a bid to host a major event, and the bid went to Chicago because Dallas didn’t have enough local culture and amenities. I don’t know if that’s true, but the local government seems to be putting a lot of money in museums, parks, etc.

Overall, I was impressed by Dallas, and think I could enjoy living here – if the opportunity arose.

Candy Vote

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I hadn’t heard of this, but apparently our very own Decatur, Georgia had a moment in the media Sun a few weeks ago when a local kid named Moey dressed up as a voting booth and essentially polled the neighborhood, taking candy in lieu of ballots.

Sometimes it’s weird when a parent gets so involved in a child’s costume (I’m guessing this wasn’t Moey’s idea) but the kid seems to be having fun.

A door-to-door poll should be a pretty good indicator of how the public will vote, although Oct 31 is late in the game for a poll to have much impact on anything. Moey’s poll is remarkably accurate.

CandyVote.com

Grits

I took a walk through the local cemetery (the Vanderbilt plot has a lovely view) and on the other side was a Kroger’s grocery. Some people here seem to have opinions about which is better, Kroger or Publix (northern chains don’t exist here) but they seem pretty much the same. You can sell wine in grocery stores in Georgia, which is a big improvement over New York or Delaware.

Something I had never seen up north was this:

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What surprised me first was that the Quaker Oats man had branched out into other grains. What surprised me second was that you could have bacon or ham (there was a ham one) in a food product that’s packaged only in paper and cardboard – no plastic or metal.

Naturally, I got it and tried the bacon one first. It wasn’t bad – essentially salty cream of wheat. There was nothing particularly corn-tasting about it. The mild flavor of grits is perfect for breakfast.

Soon after I had moved to New York City, more than 10 years ago, I was sitting at a booth in a diner near Penn Station when a tall guy in jeans and a cowboy hat took a seat at the counter. He ordered grits and the lady wrote it down and brought them out a few minutes later in a bowl. The guy didn’t touch them and said, “Grits don’t come in a bowl. Grits comes on a plate.” The lady looked at him for a second or two then took them away into the kitchen. And several minutes later came out with a plate. The guy took one bite, then put down his fork. Put some money on the counter and left.

I admired the man’s perfectionism in his quest for an excellent example of a favored food, but I laughed at the Quixotic effort to get grits in Manhattan. It’s similar to my initial frustration to get a decent bagel or pizza here. It’s not worth it – there’s plenty of other good things to eat and enjoy. Mangoes for instance.