China: Episode 1 ~ Pan-Seared Tiger Skin Pepper

IMG_2501As I got off the plane in Beijing, having never traveled internationally before, I was over the moon giddy.

Although I must admit, it was a little nerve wracking watching that video from the Chinese government stating that if anyone seems sick that they will be reported to health officials and automatically quarantined and given a shot of something from an overly happy, smiley nurse with an overly ginormous needle.

So naturally as the video ended I started stating to the person beside me (in possibly – maybe a little louder voice than normal) that my continuous sneezing and nose blowing is purely allergies from the plane of course!  Oh gosh no, I don’t have a cold or sinus infection.  I couldn’t be more healthy!

I quickly take the pile of used crumbled tissue balls and stuff them into my bag, making sure to hide the tylenol cold medicine under my book. As the plane descended into a smoggy abyss I refresh myself with a good teeth cleaning, hair brushing and mascara applying.  I feel ready to embark into China.

Slightly anxious that I will be quarantined and given shots.

Customs was miraculously a breeze.  Hardly any lines.  The Chinese really do have it down to a science.  Very easy to maneuver around.  My smile was undoubtedly bigger than usually as I was going through the process of getting approved to enter the country.

No I am not bringing any diseases into your country (sniffle).

No I did not download a VPN so that I may use Instagram (they don’t really ask that).

WeChat?  Never heard of it (truly they couldn’t care less)…

Smile.

Smile.

Smile.

I had always pictured myself walking onto a new land, setting my bags down and inhaling a big breath of this distant lands air.  After all I had been dreaming about going to China since I realized it existed…

No.  No no no no.  In fact try not to breath at all.  At first I thought, oh man – so much exhaust.  But then soon realized that the smog content of the air was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  It was almost tangible.  Like literal grit in the air.

I was parched and that’s when I realized I was not in Kansas anymore.  Nobody, I mean nobody spoke a lick of English.  Not even at the help desk (that had an English sign that said ‘Help Desk’).  So I show the sweet, young lady behind the desk a yuan and tried desperately to make the water sign which was basically me pointing to my mouth and looking as thirsty as possible.  She takes my yuan and goes to, what I believe is a vending machine and points to a large bottle of clear liquid and I nod. I don’t care what it is-I need to drink something.  She inserts the money and voila!  Water.  That is the first of so many experiences I had with the Chinese peoples.  They are nothing but kind, helpful, happy beings.  What a privilege it was to meet so many lovely new friends.

Back to reality which was standing in the middle of Terminal 2 at the Beijing International Airport.  The extent of my Mandarin is “Do you speak English,” “Thank you” and “I speak a little Mandarin.”  My friend made it clear that I am to stay put.  She will find me.  So when my long distance on my phone was not yet warmed up, I did as I was told.  She knew my airline, the time of arrival and flight number.  I tried to stay out of the way.  I felt invisible.  People rushing by me.  It was like a blur as I stood there.  I was in China.  I knew no one.  Didn’t know where to go and if my friend would ever find me.

Forty-five minutes later I see her.  She is like a glorious angel calling my name.  She is twice as tall as anyone there so I couldn’t miss her.  I started yelling back.

Kristi!

Angela!

Kristi!

Angela!

It was like a romantic novel ~ two people running toward each other with such vigor and passion.  I don’t remember a time I was so happy to see anybody in my whole life.

And then we get on the road with her driver and I experience Beijing driving and suddenly ~ growing up in Southern California with all of it’s amusement parks and tourist driving – makes all the sense in the world.

Stay tuned for China: Episode 2…

While in China, and while my friend was working I decided to take some cooking classes in an old-style housing called a Hutong.  It was beautiful and a blog in of itself.  While there I made many delicious, simple recipes.  Here is one of them.  If you can’t find a green pointed (tiger) pepper I feel that an Anaheim chili would be a great substitution.  But I encourage you to go to your nearest Asian Market.  They are so much fun.

Happy woking friends!

Ingredients

2 large green pointed peppers (or Anaheims)

1 spring onion (or green onion), white part only – finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tsp oyster sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce

2 Tbsp water

Preparation

  1. IMG_2464

    The pressing of the peppers to the wok is very important.  Here is the chef showing us technique.

    Cut tops (stem-side) of the peppers off.  Remove seeds by tapping on the pepper and having the seeds fall out.

  2. Heat wok over medium heat and add 1 tsp oil.  Swirl oil around the wok.  Reduce the heat to low and add peppers, skin-side down.  Keep pressing the peppers in the work.  Pan fry until the pepper skins become golden in places and peppers all become tender.  This may take several minutes.
  3. Place peppers onto the sides of the wok.  Add another teaspoon of oil.  Add garlic and onion.  Cook until fragrant.  Push peppers back to the middle of the wok and mix well.
  4. Service hot.

I Wanted To Be a World Traveler, So Then I Was ~ Plus Some Delicious Honey-Orange Chicken

IMG_2730I have always, really, wanted to travel the world.  The furthest I had gone was Hawaii and of course Tijuana when I was 18.

This yearning, all of a sudden caught up with me.  The yearning was more of a gnawing in my gut and the only way to get rid of it was a ticket to China.  But first I needed a passport.

Yes I am 36 and just got my first passport.

Once that was accomplished I needed to apply for a tourist visa to China.  $100 later…I am purchasing tickets to Beijing.  Oh my god.  That was thrilling.  The whole experience was thrilling.  I had never taken an international flight before.  Nor experienced the cattle-like process of customs upon returning.  It was all worth it.  Every last moment.

Plus I’m really good at disassociating.

The Great Wall of China you ask?  As magical as you can possibly imagine.  Taking the toboggan back down?  Fucking unreal!

The whole experience made me realize that, as corny as it sounds, the world is, in fact, my oyster.  It is just waiting to be experienced by me.  As my best friend and I were going our separate ways at the Beijing Internal Airport, she turned and asked me,

Well, where to next?

Yes!

I believe Switzerland

is in the running for our 40th.

Back home I am wondering how to get to England and Iceland in February.  It’s one of my oldest and dearest friends’ wedding.  He’s in Manchester.  We met when I was 16 and he and his brother were years younger.  We were both in Kauai, stuck (haha, is anyone stuck in Hawaii?? No.) on the North Shore and so we spent the summer hitchhiking to Bubba’s burgers, laying on the beach, eating at my Dad’s restaurant and basically laughing the whole damn time.  It was epic.  We spent the summer laughing.  I had found the little brothers I was missing in my life.  From that summer on they would visit me in California periodically and we stayed in touch and now….19 years later…. I just bought tickets for my husband and I to fly to London to see my friend get married.

Just so happens we are flying Iceland Air so we get a ‘free’ stopover in Iceland.  Naturally, I made sure to book 3 nights in Reykjavik.

I am a world jet setter.  That is me.  How you ask?  Well, I simply decided it so.

The following New Years will be spent in the Dominican Republic.

After that…well.  I’ll wait to feel it out.  Maybe the oyster will whisper a sweet something in my ear…

To celebrate, let’s dig our teeth into this most delectable, savory chicken recipe.  Good news it’s all done in the crock pot.  All you do is mix and dump.  I believe my husband ate 10 drumsticks that night and my kids ate several (anymore than 1 is a miracle).

Thank you to Eating Well Magazine.  This is their recipe from the May/June 2014 edition.  I did change the recipe slightly.  I will post the recipe as it is in the magazine.  But here are my changes: after cooking in the crock pot for the said amount of time I put the drumsticks on a baking sheet and kept them warm in the oven (at about a 250 degree oven temp).  I then poured the sauce into a saucepan and simmered until the sauce was reduced by half (or more).  Once the sauce had reduced, I took the chicken out of the oven, topped with sauce, sesame seeds and cilantro.  Yum!  Serve with white rice (or I made smashed potatoes) and grilled asparagus.

Enjoy friends.  Happy travels.

Me and the Great Wall of China

Me and the Great Wall of China

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 medium chicken drumsticks (3-3 1/2 pounds), skin removed (see Tip)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

PREPARATION

  1. Combine honey, orange zest, orange juice, soy sauce (or tamari), garlic, ginger, vinegar and crushed red pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Coat a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Add drumsticks, pour in the sauce and mix to coat. Cover and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat without touching bone, 2 to 3 hours on High or 4 hours on Low.
  3. Transfer the drumsticks to a bowl. Very carefully pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a medium skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until reduced and syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the sauce over the drumsticks and stir to coat. Serve sprinkled with cilantro and sesame seeds.

TIPS & NOTES

  • To remove the skin from chicken drumsticks, grip the skin from the meaty end of the drumstick with a paper towel and pull down toward the exposed bone until it comes off completely.

High Altitude Adjustment

  • Nada

Compost

  • Used and abused orange
  • Garlic, ginger and cilantro trimmings

Recycle

  • Any empty containers

Reuse

  • None

Asian Noodle Soup ~ My Obsession is Real

IMG_1819First step is admitting it.  I admit it.  I’m an Asian soup nut.  Maybe it’s the fact that I may be going to China in September, or the fact that ever since I was able to read, I read about Asia and all of the different places, cultures, languages….food.  My best friend in elementary school was a Korean girl.  We would always swap my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her seaweed and rice rolls.  I would buy rolls of nori (before salted/roasted nori came pre-packaged) and have her mom hand roast and salt the the nori.  When she’d return them to me – there would be dozens of sheets of the most delectable nori.  I was in third grade heaven.

I would be invited to go with her family down to LA to Korea Town.  We would shop at the most authentic markets and then lunch at the most tasty restaurants.  The BBQ’s were built right into the table!  It was magical.

I thrive on culture.

Learning about your culture.

His culture.

Her culture.

Their culture.

My current favorite television show is Luke Nguyen on The Cooking Channel.  Not only because he seems to be the most genuine, sweet guy but because he cooks on the back of a rickshaw, in the middle of a fish market, on the river bank….  And these dishes are so simple, made with the freshest ingredients and ultimately mind-blowing.  I really want his Vietnam cooking books but alas, they’re so expensive!  (hint hint).  He just toured Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and I am enamored.  It is absolutely thrilling to think that I could one day travel to those places.

And I will.

So back to this soup.  I am trying to perfect the base.  I have had many misses and I feel that I have finally found a hit.  I have tried to make it easy with both technique and ingredients.  So here’s what I did…

IMG_1797

The secret ingredient…shhhhhhhh….

Soup Base Ingredients

2 tablespoons sesame oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 inches of ginger, chopped

1 Thai chili, chopped

1 teaspoon: fennel seed, coriander seed, and white peppercorns

1 tablespoon garlic chili paste (optional)

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

32 ounces chicken stock

Several splashes of Maggi Seasoning

Topping Suggestions (the world is your oyster)

Mushrooms

Snow peas, sliced

Green onion, cut in thirds

Carrots, julienned

Radishes, cut into medallions

Cilantro sprigs

Shredded chicken or beef

Shrimp

Fried (over-easy) egg

Udon noodles

e….t…..c………….

IMG_1792-2

Add only if you need to add some extra spice to your life.

Add only if you need to add some extra spice to your life.

Preparation

  1. Heat oil in wok or large saucepan.  Add garlic, ginger and chile.  Sauté until fragrant and soft, about 7 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toast the fennel, coriander and pepper in a small saucepan until fragrant.  About 1 minute.  Continue to move the seeds around so as not to burn.  Once toasted, crush in a pestle and mortar and crush until coarse, not fine.  Add to soup base.IMG_1796-2
  3. Add soy sauce, vinegar and Maggi Seasoning to soup base.
  4. Slowly add chicken stock and 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes.
  5. Prepare all of your toppings and assemble your soup.  This is what I had in the fridge that I needed to use or they would have turned:
    IMG_1804

    Fresh cilantro, green onion, snow peas and radishes. I also shredded a rotisserie chicken breast and fried an egg.

    I also added some shredded cooked chicken to the empty soup bowls and just ladled the broth over it.  I added some udon noodles to the broth about 10 minutes before serving.  I made the fried egg similar to how The Pioneer Woman makes it.  Comes out perfect.

Bon appetit.

Bon appetite. (here’s hoping you have better quality beer to go with it)

High Altitude Adjustment

  • None

Compost

  • Vegetable trimmings
  • Egg shell

Recycle

  • Noodle packaging
  • Chicken stock packaging
  • Any empty bottles…

Reuse

  • n/a

Whatcha Readin’? – February 2014

bookhappyI was checking out my bookshelf the other day.  How come it keeps getting bigger?  With all the unread books gaining on the read books, I seem to accumulate more.  I blame Amazon and the used book opportunities.  Barely used books for less than a dollar!?  I also blame the all too efficient library system.  Going around the state finding books I want and getting them to me in an obscenely timely manner.  There is not enough hours in the day or night for me to read all that I want.  Dang.  I am a member of an online Book “club” and a member posted that she has already read 5 books this new year.  FIVE books!?  And one of them was re-reading Little Women.  So these are not 200 page booklets she is referring to.  Dang again.  I wish I had the time to read 5 books in a month.  I’ll be lucky if I hit 3.

This working thing may not work out after all.

I also blame those awesomely silly online book lists such as “The 25 most influential books of all time” or “The top 20 books that will change your life forever” or “The 10 books you should have read in high school,” my GoodReads account is overflowing.

This whole living, eating, parenting thing kind of gets in the way as well.

So really I need to calm the hell down and practice the art of mindful reading.  (I just made that up I think).  Where I just focus on the one (or three) book(s) I’m reading now and not worry about the billion I have yet to read.  I need to build another bookshelf so that the one I have doesn’t break.  And that the irregular stacking to fit all of my books on there won’t freak me out so much.

Here are my latest ventures, may you always have a good book within reach…

leaninLean in by Sheryl Sandberg

I saw her on The Daily Show and was drawn to her powerful energy.  She is all about women, empowering them, giving them a platform in which they can stand strong on.  I knew when Jon asked her if she expected the back lash she was getting when she wrote this book and her response was so elegant and so unwavering.  She expected it.  It means the message is out there and generating buzz.  Negative or not it is a necessary message.  The Universe wanted me to hear her message.  After I saw her on T.V. I instantly went online and requested it from my library.  The day I received the call from my library that it was waiting for me I was in my boss’ office and there it was.  She had read it and was lending it to a friend who recently was going back to work.  My boss is someone I admire so completely I knew that I was on the right path.  I devoured this book within days.  The message was not a hard one to expect.  Being a feminist I knew the empowerment of any gender was necessary.  There were interesting case studies with horrifying findings.  The perception of people who would never think themselves bigots was jaw dropping.  There is a clear division between men and women and this book will be a beneficial vice to help blur those lines.  To empower women to step forward, lean in and go for that big job.  The big title.  The big money.  Shaking off the stigma of society and how women ought to act and how people perceive and judge is the first step of leaning in and joining society as an equal.  Bottom line: Ms. Sandberg brings up the subject nobody else wanted to.  That we women, in the workplace, is a great force to be reckoned with.  Read it, not only to empower yourself as a man or woman, but to help empower others.  Life is not a competition, but a celebration for everyone as equals.

shanghaigirlsShanghai Girls by Lisa See

There is nothing that makes me happier than picking up a legit, historical fiction novel about anything Asia.  I feel, lately, that I have been focusing more  on Japan.  Picking up a book on China was insightful.  What I had to keep reminding myself was that what took place in this novel was not that long ago.  This novel begins in the 1920s.   And then the Japanese attack and it is all down hill from there.  There is a rape scene in here that if I knew it existed I would not have picked up the book.  I am very sensitive to that subject and the detail and descriptive imagery was very good.  Unfortunately, I am left with that scene in my head.  It is an integral part of the story though.  The relationship between the sisters hit home.  The story is narrated by the older sister, Pearl.  And at the very end you get the perspective of the younger sister, May which blew my mind.  I wanted to read the novel all over again to see it through Mays eyes.  I love a twist like that.  Reading this book helped to put a lot of different perspectives in place.  Life as a young girl in pre-communist China.  Entering America as an immigrant being held at Angel Island for nearly a year.  This book is heartbreaking, but it also speaks volumes at how resilient we humans are.  How complicated our relationships are.  And how there is absolutely no way we could judge anyone for anything as we all have different perspectives and life experiences that make judging others an impossible  and pointless undertaking.  Over all, to live in a place like Shanghai, at its height of prosperity and then to be catapulted into a new country being treated awfully, it made me take a step back and look at my life.  There is nothing for me to complain about.  And that my friend, is why I fucking love to read.

joyDreams of Joy by Lisa See

This is the follow-up book to Shanghai Girls.  I believe I liked this book better.  Being a history major you’d think I knew more about Communist China.  I’ll admit, this is my first in-depth look at the Mao’s Great Leap Forward.  Holy good god.  This book was tragic.  All the way through.  The frustrations you feel as the reader reading about an adolescent girls who thinks she knows the world and in turn nearly starves to death with her baby girl and husband turned first class creep.  The scenes in this book are horrifying.  So much that I had to skim through several of the pages and when I didn’t quite understand what See was describing due to my skimming I knew in my gut to keep skimming.  Awful stories.  Completely heartbreaking.  And the reason it hurt me so much is because I knew that it was accounts made from history.  That those scenes, and I’m sure that was just the tip of the iceberg, happened.  In the 1960s for crying out loud!  So every time your parent said “there are people starving in China,” yeah, that’s an understatement.  What I loved about the book is that when Joy first gets to a countryside village it seems lovely.  I’m thinking not only as the reader but also someone who understand the wicked ways of communism that is sounds lovely!  Women are equals, everyone works together for a better country.  Altruism at its best.  But then the Great Leap Forward comes in to play.  Greed comes in to play.  Plant the crops closer, more yield.  The Tyrants running the show.  The selfishness.  It was brutal, and I couldn’t stop reading it.  I stepped into the fields of communist RED China circa 16960s.  The ending….I’m a sucker for a happy endings.  If it doesn’t end happily I sit on that pile of sadness trying to make sense of it all.  But this one.  Happy.  I am able to put down this book (after taking many notes of further studies to do via the acknowledgements section) and can start a new book.  I highly recommend.

Currently Reading:

Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization by Reza Aslan

On Deck:

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

fscott