Fake Mountains and Beijing Nightlife

Have I mentioned this yet? In our apartment, we have these two very cute little reading nooks that take great advantage of the bright afternoon sun. They are perfect for spending a relaxing afternoon curled up with a steamy cup of tea and a good book. Or at least, one of them would be, if not for the fact that there is a giant stone basin. As in, a big stone pool about the size of half a bathtub, a bit more than a foot high, at least an inch and a half thick. It used to be filled with water, until our a-yi drained it, but even empty it’s far too heavy to move. The water was green algae and murky, and probably a fantastic breeding ground for mosquitoes in the summer. I wanted it gone. We asked the landlord, what ever could it be for, and can he get rid of it for us?

Apparently, the previous tenants used to make 假山,or fake mountains, out of mud, in this thing, and decorate it with little clay figurines and what not. Good for them for having a hobby-how the hell did they get that thing up six flights of stairs? The landlord insisted it was impossible to move now, and why wouldn’t we want to be able to make 假山?Or, we can keep it filled with water and put fish in it. The only good thing about it right now is that I can stand on it and reach the laundry drying rack, but it’s a risky perch and I’ll probably fall and hurt myself. Something, say like a sledgehammer, needs to happen to it, because it’s taking up some prime real estate.

Our Fake Mountain Basin

Friday I had three lessons with kids. I had a demo class to teach a grown man business Chinese, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he picks another teacher because he kind of smells terrible and I’m not at all confident that I can teach an adult. I am just really much better with kids than real people. After classes, I asked the girls at the front desk where I could find an international grocery store nearby. They didn’t know, but the boss man did, and he very kindly decided to walk me there. We had a good conversation in Chinese about how China has all sorts of specialized food from each province, but America doesn’t really have it’s own cuisine. I mean, clearly there’s an American way of cooking that is hard to find in other countries, but it’s usually some take on French or Italian or Mediterranean or Japanese fusion. It’s hard to think of anything that’s really American, besides maybe hamburgers, sandwiches, and boiled lobster. he was going to stay and shop with me so he could show me back to the main road, but I felt super awkward and insisted that I could find my way back myself, and hated to impose anymore.

Jenny Lou’s was small and expensive, but I got everything I needed. I also visited the fruit and vegetable market and spent less than 10 US dollars on a whole bunch of vegetables and chicken.
Having not cooked in a while, even though it was just for myself, I decided to make a big batch of bolognese sauce and sweet potato gnocchi that I could freeze for the future. I had found some green peas at the market, so I made myself a small dish of gnocchi in a lemon cream sauce with chicken and peas. The cream sauce was a little on the heavy side, since I still haven’t gotten the knack of how much flour to add, and it thickens too much, but otherwise the gnocchi were the best I’ve made to date.

Bolognese sauce is simple and one of my standbys. I dice up one yellow bell pepper, one onion, three-four stalks of celery, three tomatoes, several gloves of garlic, one-two carrots (depending on size). Season ground beef (couldn’t find any ground turkey at Jenny Lou’s) with a few dashes of Maggi seasoning. Soften the onion, carrots, and celery with a little sprinkling of salt, add the pepper and tomato and garlic, let that cook a bit. Saute the ground beef, making sure it’s all broken up and then add it into the big pot. Pour in maybe half a cup if not more of a decent red wine, one tin of tomato paste, add a few shakes of pepper and basil, and some chicken stock, and then let that simmer for a good hour or two, stirring every now and then.

Vegetables softening in the pot

Simmering away gently

Gnocchi is deceptively simple, although I guess it could be easy to mess up. I had a recipe but not real measuring implements so I was ball parking everything and going by feel. Since I wanted to make a huge batch, I got four large sweet potatoes at the market. Two of them were the golden, Japanese yams that I like better, they taste a bit sweeter and are supposedly healthier for you. Two of them were regular orange, but it really only affected the color, not the finished taste at all.

Ricotta and Sweet Potato

Tray 1 of 3. I am a gnocchi making machine!

The recipe I was using called for one pound of potato, 1/2 cup of ricotta, one egg, and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Since I was somewhere between double and tripling that, I added 250 mg of ricotta, which was the size of the container I bought (about a cup), and three eggs. I first cut the skinned sweet potatoes up and boiled it, then mashed them finely, and mixed in the cheese and egg. The flour I added by spoonful until I thought they were about the right consistency. This turned out to be a good choice, as the gnocchi ended up being lighter and fluffier than any I’ve made before, not too dense or floury.
Most I froze (separate on a tray, and then bagged once frozen so they don’t stick together) but a few I boiled until they floated to the surface of the water, and served with chicken and peas in cream sauce.

After a few hours of having fun in the kitchen, I met up with a friend I met at a conference in Taiwan this past summer. He had lived in Beijing several years ago and is back for some research project. We started off at Q Bar, which is a nice little bar with an extensive cocktail list (and apparently a nice roof deck open in the summer). Another friend of mine, Pintsize, from school, also having moved to Beijing, met us there. Pintsize is an adorably small girl from a similar background as mine, as we exchanged stories on our rather Catholic upbringing and New England experiences. These two had both been in Beijing before, and had some hilarious stories. Hearing that in my three weeks in Beijing, I had not been out to a club, just to some bars, they decided that I needed an introduction to Beijing nightlife, and brought me to Kai, a notoriously ridiculous club in Sanlitun. There are a few bars there that seem to cater to the 16 and 17 year old international kids, as well as some rather unsavory other types of clientele. They boast dirt cheap drinks, 10 kuai (about a dollar fifty US) per beer or mixed drink, and you can tell it’s because the liquor is fake, some backroom brew that really messes you up. We had a few beers there, until I could no longer endure the tiny, young looking high school kids so excited to be out and drinking, or the ugly old Chinese men and their equally skeevy looking prostitutes. My Taiwan friend had heard a rumor of an 80s night at Alfa, and so, in the mood to dance, we decided to go there.

Alfa was packed, and not because of 80s night, but because it was gay night. The music was still good so we stuck around, and I even ran into someone I knew, who will be known as Wingman from this point forth because upon seeing me, he made it very, very clear that he was just here as “a wingman” for his buddies. As it turns out, gay Chinese boys love me. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty tiny and adorable, or maybe the fluffy hair and boyish figure, or my very colorful aqua teal glasses, which at one point someone switched for a pair of shiny red rhinestone-covered frames. Packed clubs like that aren’t usually my thing, but every now and then I enjoy my dance parties and it was quite a bit of fun. However, my favorite point in the evening might have been waiting in line for the bathroom. There were two toilets, ostensibly one for men and one for women, and we were waiting in line behind a girl, who when the door opened, did not make it clear if she was going to use it or not. We were trying to be polite and asking if she was in fact, going in since she had been there before us, when one of the boys in the men’s line cut ahead of us, saying, “well, if none of you are going to go in..” At which point I got really sassy and retorted “Oh, no, we’re just standing around here for fun, just chatting. Please, cut in front of me, I don’t really need to pee at all.” Sure, not really scathing, but I can be a bit timid sometimes and I’m glad I actually said something. He then sort of sheepishly went back to the men’s line.

The rest of my weekend has been fairly quiet; grocery shopping with Bambi, watching a couple movies on my computer, arranging the apartment more to my liking, eating candy and watching the Australian tennis open with friends. I still have yet to figure out where to buy a cheap second hand bike.


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