Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back and ready to start again

Finally, we have all of our holidays behind us and now can try and get back into a routine. I know, I shouldn't complain. A 3 week Winter Break followed by 2 weeks of routine and then a 1 week Chinese New Year break sounds nice. It is....but it is so hard on all of us to get back into our groove. I have already missed my exercise routine 2 days because of catching up I needed to do.

I am however buckling down and wrapping my head around the spring. I am already doing well on my New Year's resolution of reading more. I have read 5 books since the Christmas break which is more than I have read in the last 3 years combined. I have to say that I am quite pleased with my reading and hope that I can keep it up although I am sure the holidays had something to do with it.

I am also please to say that this is my ninth post of the New Year which is more posts than the past 3 years combined. I am constantly thinking of new ideas about what to write about, new places I want to try and new things I want to cook. I am so happy to have a couple tidbits that I will be writing about in the near future, one which will be about the beautiful food in Burma and the second thanks to the recent visit of Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop, I have this wondering article get me back on the food trail again.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On the Road Again

As I sit here writing I am listening to the pre-game fireworks. This year, I am sorry to miss the show on New Year's Eve, but at least we will be back for the last 8 days.

We are heading to Burma for a week. It is an exciting time to visit this country that is going through so many changes very rapidly. I will be offline for the week, but look forward to getting back at it when I return from my travels. I hope to have some photos of the beautiful stupas, temples, and food from this exotic location.

Good-bye Year of the Rabbit, I am looking forward to the year of the Dragon!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

You Know Chinese New Year Is Upon You When...


Your kids come home from school and tell you they brought a live rooster home. Huh? I have lived in China for 6 years, so this shouldn't surprise me, but for some reason it did.

This was the first year that my ayi actually brought a rooster into the house. She had gone outside for some reason and it coincided with the kids return from school. The kids came running upstairs shouting "Mommy, Mommy we brought a rooster home." I thought they were lying, but both my kids are terrible liars (like myself). So I went to investigate.


I guess the rooster had to use to the bathroom?

I asked them if they had touched it because I wanted them to wash their hands and they both said no. Two hours later I was freaking out on Angus because he changed his story and was actually the one who carried it home. My kids thought I was a freak and I yelled at Angus telling him could get Avian flu and die by touching a chicken and then sticking their fingers in his mouth (like he always does). I seem to be in 'be afraid' parenting these days. Maybe I over reacted, but I made my ayi put the bird outside until it went home with her. Lucky for us we have a dog kennel for the rooster.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Avoca Love


Today I decided that it would be one of those days where I didn't eat any meat. I really didn't feel like I needed any and like I said I am trying to have meat less than 1 time per day. Tomorrow will be a different story as we are having people over for dinner and dining on New Mexico cuisine which requires lots and lots of pork!

When we were in Northern Ireland at Christmas I was told by my mother-in-law about a fantastic cafe called Avoca. She said it was the perfect place for someone who loves to cook and loves trinkets for the kitchen. On the way out of Belfast I took the kids there for brunch and it was the most delicious brunch/lunch I believe I have ever tasted. We opted for the 'cafeteria' style cafe with communal tables and bench seating. There was a smorgasbord of items to choose from and I was finding it difficult to make a decision. Gemma had ordered a berry and cinnamon scone and homemade yogurt with honey, while Angus had a fruit salad. They both had the most amazingly rich and chocolaty hot cocoa to go along with their brunch. I ended up with the Tuscan roasted vegetable tart with goat cheese and a frothy cappuccino to get me started for the day. This food was so amazing I needed to figure out how to recreate!

Lucky for me it was Christmas and Avoca has a wide range of cookbooks. I decided the Avoca cookbooks would be a great addition to my collection and would make a nice, easily wrapped Christmas gift for me.


This evening I made my second attempt this year to make a recipe out the Avoca Soups and Avoca Salads. The first attempt was a Potato and Herb soup that turned out better than I anticipated although it wasn't a huge hit with the kids. Tonight I tried their Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper soup and the Carrot with Roasted Sesame salad.

The soup was perfect, but one recipe was not enough for our family. I will have to double or triple it next time. I added some crusty bread to it to make it more hearty since one recipe was so scant. It was a huge hit with the kids! Unfortunately they were not so hip on the carrot salad, but Jonny and I were over the moon about it! I followed the recipe and also added more seeds such as pumpkin, poppy, and sunflower seeds. I cannot believe how much those seeds added to the overall flavor of the salad. The recipe required the Avoca French dressing which I made 800 ml of to use on this salad and future salads. The best thing about our meal was that everything we completely vegetarian! I will be doing more experimenting from these cookbooks in the near future! Avoca is my new love!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My New Year's Resolutions

I love the New Year and it is even better living in China because you get to celebrate two of them. This year the New Years are about 3 weeks apart, so it seems like January has been one big party especially with Gemma's birthday right smack dab in the middle of them. One of my favorite things to do at the beginning of the year is to make a few, very achievable resolutions. I am not into setting resolutions about weight loss or exercise, I am more about setting resolutions about how I can make a difference on this earth.

I was thinking about setting a New Year's resolution about becoming a vegetarian, but I thought that was a bit drastic. Just last spring we started eating meat only 1 time per day because of all the reading I have been doing online about plant based diets and also to help Jonny with his health kick and weight loss regime. Now this is coming from a girl who was raised in Nebraska from parents who attended the church of corn-fed beef. I wanted to make the goal obtainable, so I slightly increased the goal to eating meat less than 1 time per day. This means that maybe we eat meat 1 time per day or maybe we skip it altogether. I hope that I am able to share recipes in my journey to cut out more meat throughout the year my blog on new vegetarian dishes or recipes I manage to concoct.

The other resolution I set was that I wanted to get back to reading books. This is one of those 'for me' resolutions. For the past 2 years I have maybe read 3 books in total. That is very sad for someone who started a book club back in Arizona (that is still running strong although I have a suspicion there is more drinking than reading going on these days) and attended book club in Chengdu religiously for the first 4 years of living here.

I started reading over the Christmas holiday and managed to finished 2 1/2 books over the holidays. The first book I read was "11 Minutes" by Paulo Coelho which then made me what to read his book "The Alchemist". I have never had the pleasure to read anything written by Mr. Coelho, but I definitely will looking for other books by this incredible yarn spinner. I also managed to finish "The Paris Wife" by Paula McClain. It was the January pick for our book club and since I recently watched the movie "Midnight in Paris", which was a movie by Woody Allen about the 'Lost Generation', it motivated me to read this historical fiction book. I am happy to say that I have made it through 2 books this year, "11 Minutes" is registered in the 2 books read last year tally. I have already started my third book and February book club selection "Tall Grass" by Sandra Dallas.

I am feeling really good about 2012! My this is my fifth blog post of the year, so I am keeping up in all my resolution categories!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Baking for Gemma's Birthday


This week my sweet, beautiful girl turned 10 on January 11th. I was reminded by my dear friend Nancy, not only was it the day my daughter was born, but it was the day that I first became a Momma! I honestly had never thought of it that way and it made the day all the sweeter for me. Thank you so much Nancy for giving me the opportunity to think a little bit deeper about January 11th.

This week I have been under the weather and not feeling like doing much of anything, but laying in bed and reading a book. We all seemed to contract the same bug while we were in Thailand and then pass it around the house. I really had to push myself this week to get the job done when it came to the all the birthday preparation that I was doing in the kitchen for my dear Gemma girl, but so far I didn't disappoint her.

Her first request, which she made last year, was that we would do something special the day before her birthday to celebrate her last day as a single digit. She made the decision to stay at home and to pick any meal she would like to have on her birthday cooked by yours truly. I made her favorite dish of lemon chicken, broccoli, and rice. This recipe is a Western-style dish although it sounds very Chinese which was made with chicken breast pan fried in a lemony sauce. This was an old stand by recipe from the early years before we had kids and since we have not been eating very much meat, especially chicken, in our house I was a little rusty in making this. The chicken turned out quite tender, but luckily the kids didn't notice I forgot the chicken stock in the recipe. Oops!

On the day of her actual birthday Gemma requested that I make homemade lemon bars and deliver them to school for her classmate to share. I used Ina Garten's recipe, which is a family favorite both here and back in Nebraska. I highly recommend this recipe if you are a connoisseur of anything lemon and especially love extremely tart tasting desserts. I was so surprised that all but one of Gemma's classmates finished the lemon bar. I thought for sure they would be way to sour. I had one boy say to me that "they taste like Skittles" which I first was offended, but then realized it was more of a compliment.

I had a couple days off from preparing birthday dinners/treats, so I had a couple meals out, but that is for a different post with a couple new restaurant reviews.

We found a great idea for a birthday party for Gemma last year and decided to give it a shot for her big double digit birthday. She absolutely loves to sing and dance, so what better thing to do in a city with a gazillion KTV (karaoke) bars, give her her dream party. I had Jonny check out the KTV and see if we could find a room large enough to squeeze 25 screaming children into. We were happy to find out that we could have the party early in the afternoon to avoid the busy time where business men and scantily clad women came after their business dinners.

The next step was to ask Gemma what she wanted for a dessert. She immediately said "lemon meringue pie". I about choked when she said it. I just kept thinking of all the crusts I would have to make and how ugly they would all be! I told her that yes, I could make 2 pies, but it would probably only feed 12 people, so she would have to pick something else. By the end of the week I was at my wits end with the thought of making the pies and I had to let her down. I tried to talk her into lemon cheese cake, which is one of my specialties. She didn't want to serve that because most of her friends do not like cheesecake. One of the problems living in Asia, most Asian do not like cheese! I told her that I would make Christine Tosi's Milk Bar Crack cookies (Not really the name, but I have read so many people online refer to these cookies as 'crack' and the corn flake crunch alone is enough to give you an immediate addiction!) and she could pick something else too.

I made the crack cookies a little small this time. They are supposed to be massive, but the amount of butter and sugar plus the number of kids attending the party made me decide that the smaller the cookie the less sugar they would ingest which would keep me saner at the party. Here is a photo of the crack!


Gemma then decided that she wanted a lemon poppyseed cake from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I had never tried it, but usually I have the good luck that things turn out the first time. The good thing was that the cake turned out, but the bad thing was that it was way too small to feed the army of kids that were coming to celebrate Gemma's big day. Therefore I had to make a second cake.


Here is the first of the two cakes I ended up making. I will glaze it in the morning and hopefully I have have a very happy 10 year old tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Eat Me! Not literally...

I had to make a separate post dedicated to one of my most favorite restaurants in the world "Eat Me". I stumbled across this restaurant on Trip Advisor on one of my two visits to Thailand last year. I ate there one night and it was love a first bite! I first fell in head over heels for the fennel and fig bread with an olive oil and cashew/kaffir lime dry dip and then raved to anyone I knew about how delicious the food was at this fine establishment

The ambience is incredible with candles and dimly lit lights. The owner is Australian and the last I knew the chef was from New York City although I didn't see him there on this visit. The wait staff is amazing and our waiter, who is Thai and married to a Scottish woman, remembered us from the time we visited last April. The menu has a subtle Asian flair to it with cocktails, salads, starters, mains, and desserts that make it difficult not to order the entire menu.

On this visit I started with a Marrakech Bellini (instead of peach juice it had pomegranate juice) while the kids had a watermelon and mint juice and mango juice. Gemma ordered her favorite rocket, pear, and parmesan salad with black truffle dressing and homemade penne in a tomato sauce.



Angus ordered a black chicken salad that had the most amazing shavings of freshly, toasted coconut in it (it also had red onion, so when you took a bite you weren't quite sure what you were getting) and New Zealand black green lipped mussels.


I ordered the heirloom tomato salad with olive oil ice cream, shaved parmesan, mint, and basil (which was divine) and Thai barramundi in coconut milk.


I was a little disappointed that we didn't get the normal fig and fennel bread and dry dipping sauce, but they had a lovely garlic and rosemary foccacia as a substitute.


Our dessert was the highlight of our meal and something we were all looking forward to. I had to order what we usually ordered which was a deep, dark, chocolate extravaganza of sweet which included the dark chocolate flourless chocolate cake that was so moist in literally melted in your mouth and the spicy chili and chocolate ice cream.



They make their ice cream homemade and I have never tasted such a subtle taste of chocolate to chili ratio. The kids absolutely flip over this ice cream because of this as your taste buds are rewarded by a bittersweet dark chocolate taste followed by the slow burn of chili. We balanced our chocolate craving with the pavlova with bananas, passion fruit, and cream. I prefer this to pavlova with berries and cream as they passion fruit is the perfect sour compliment to the meringue.

I am looking forward to my next trip to Bangkok, hopefully later this year!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The most indecisive woman in the world! ME!

Jonny, the kids and I returned from Northern Ireland on the afternoon of December 31st. Jonny and I thought it would be a great idea for me to take the kids to Thailand for the first week of January since they had one week left of their Winter break. Now, I never turn down an opportunity to go to Thailand. It is my home away from home and it makes me smile the minute I step of the plane into this steamy environment.

Originally I booked a yoga retreat in Koh Mak, but unfortunately getting there and paying for the retreat were a little bit too difficult. I invited a friend and her two boys to tag along with us as they spent the Christmas holiday in Chengdu. I thought it would be fun for all the kids to play together and for the Mom's to relax on the beach. My friend and I opted to make the decision on where to go when we arrived in Bangkok. Luckily for me my friend is very easy going about these things which balances off me being a total freak about these things.

Last night we spent 3 hours researching every beach and hotel in Koh Chang trying to make a decision on where to stay, but I was still not happy. Honestly, location and the service of the resort are what is most important for me, but when you are looking at pictures of places to stay it is quite for me to make a decision. After reading lots of Trip Advisor and Agoda reviews I was still unhappy with the choices in front of me. We decided to sleep on it and make the decision in the morning.

Gemma woke us up at 10 am and said we had to get up and have breakfast. I looked at the clock and saw that we slept through the 2 alarms that I had set for 9 am. I slowly made my way to the bathroom and got myself ready for the pool. Our friends were already in the pool splashing away.

While I sat by the pool reading my new book I avoided the subject of where to go because I was not sure where to go and I was thinking that we should just try to make it to Koh Mak because it seemed like an easy solution, or better yet just stay in Bangkok for the week. Finally my friend broach the subject and said she had found some hotels she thought would work. I agreed to come to their room and bring my laptop to discuss the options.

After we left the pool the kids and I went for showers and I did more research. There was a hotel that wasn't available yesterday that had rooms magically appear on the internet. I thought this was a great place and met all of my needs. We went down to their room and looked at the hotel with my fried and decided it was a go. We both simultaneously booked our own rooms, but I got a funny message saying something to the affect that my credit card may or may not have been declined. I couldn't believe it! After finally making a decision I was going to have to start all over! I thought there was something wonky about my credit card because I had used it in 3 countries in 3 days, but basically there seemed to be only one room with that particular booking agent.

I went back to our room and called the hotel and tried to book directly with them, but they were quoting me a price double the price I had originally found. I told them that there was a cheaper price on their website, but they could only give me a small discount. The woman on the phone was very nice and suggested I try Booking.com. Lucky for me they had one room left at a cheaper price and promptly booked it! I have used Booking.com twice in two months and have been really pleased with them. I think I may have to bookmark them.

Koh Chang here we come!!!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy 2012!!!

A friend of mine gave herself the Christmas present of starting her blog again. I decided to follow in her footsteps.

There are many reason I wanted to do this, one being that I really wanted to do something for ME and do less for others. That may seem quite selfish, but I feel that I deserve a pass. I am a Wife, a Mother, and a Community Organizer. Three of the most underpaid, thankless jobs that you can have. I am not complaining, but instead of being a martyr I decided to rise to it and do something that I enjoy doing.

I was thinking about changing my blog's name, but the name is still extremely brilliant (thanks to Melanie Parkes-Spatgen) and I still live in Chengdu. The only thing that may change is that content will become broader since we have now lived in Chengdu for 5 years.

One of my main passions in life (besides being a Wife, Mother, and Community Organizer) is food. I love to cook it, eat it, play with it, look at it and read about it. I am hoping to discuss food topics such as cooking in China whether it be Sichuan cuisine or food I am adapting to local ingredients, food I am eating while traveling, restaurants I enjoy and anything interesting I am doing in my day to day diet.

Wish me luck in 2012 that I take the time to do this for ME!