Robot Gets Hit By A Car

I have this really long post about my wonderful trip to Seoul that I keep meaning to post but deciding which of the many photos I took to post seems daunting, and I’ve been tired and lazy the past few days.

I was going to be super productive today, starting with a class at nine, then going to the bank, maybe getting some shopping done, job applications, studying, even going to gym for a hard workout.

None of that happened. I woke up to a bright and shiny morning, forecast of 76 degrees, and cheerfully I hopped on my bike and started off to work. And then BAM I got hit by a fucking car.

I am a safe biker. I do not cross the street unless there is a crossing light. I do not take the unnecessary risks almost every other biker I see does. I ride slowly and am always on the lookout for cars. So of course, I get hit by a car going approximately 3 miles an hour pulling out of a driveway. I was DIRECTLY in front of him. Two bikers had ALREADY passed safely. He literally started his car with the intent to roll into me. Thankfully he was going so slowly, I didn’t even get knocked over all the way. In shock and anger a vehement slew of curses and violent invectives spewed out of me while I struggled to get out of the bike lane and next to the sidewalk so I could inspect my leg and bike for damage. I looked down for FIVE SECONDS to make sure I wasn’t bleeding and that my bike was functional. And the driver disappeared. All sorts of angry thoughts are running through my head and I wish I had written down his license lumber, but if I see that man again I’m going to key his car. Luckily, my bike wasn’t damaged at all and there were only a bad bruise on my ankle, and some pain in thigh. Mostly I was shaken, but I don’t think China cares about emotional damage. I called up the school, told them I had been hit by a car and was going to a doctor, and slowly made my way home to curl up in bed.

My new plan for the day is to sit around with ice, a fistful of ibuprofen, watch as the bruises blossom and swell up, make grumpy noises as pain and new bruises make themselves known to me, and possibly eventually hobble towards the kitchen for food.

Stovetop Lasagna

My god. Not only do I listen to the boys always talking about Frisbee in my waking hours, but I’ve started to have nightmares that are just me trapped in eternity listening to them discuss strategy. I woke up absolutely irritated.

In an attempt to use up everything in my fridge before I leave tomorrow for my mini vacation, I made lasagna today after class. I’ve made lasagna before to varying degrees of great success, usually layering zucchini and sliced Italian sausage. Well, sausages and ovens happen to be a rather scarce commodity, but luckily I found an intriguing looking recipe for stove top vegetable lasagna, and a box of small lasagna sheets left from Bambi’s old roommate (really, we owe him a lot, we inherited such a vast quantity of useful things when he returned stateside).

The box was entirely in Italian, so I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of lasagna that doesn’t need to be pre-cooked, so I half cooked it just in case.
Peeled a carrot and zucchini, and then, using the vegetable peeler, cut them into thin ribbons and set them aside. Quickly blanched a large bunch of spinach and set aside. Minced two tomatoes along with a can of stewed tomatoes (the recipe called for a pound and a half of tomatoes, which I didn’t have). Cut up 4 cloves of garlic, sauteed it in some olive oil, added in the tomatoes, with salt, pepper, basil, and a little bit of water.
While that was simmering, I mixed about a cup of ricotta with an egg, more basil, salt, pepper, and a whole bunch of freshly grated parmesan (recipe called for 2 Tbs but I am a fan of more cheese), and thinly sliced a ball of mozzarella.

Peeling Carrot and Zucchini Ribbons

I pulsed the sauce in the food processor, then put about a cup back into a pot. Lay down two sheets of lasagna down, and alternated ribbons of zucchini and carrots, drizzled olive oil and black pepper, then covered it with spinach. Slathered the ricotta mixture on top, layered some mozarella on that, and then a few table spoons of sauce. Two more sheets of lasagna, a little more sauce on the pasta, then the layers of vegetables and cheese, and repeat, for a total of three layers. The final two sheets of pasta on top, pour the remaining sauce over, and covered liberally with mozzarella. I let it simmer for about twenty minutes. I was so afraid that it would be dry and wouldn’t cook, that it actually turned out really soupy, but still tasty.

Mozzarella covering 3 layers of cheesy vegetable goodness

The Cake Is A Lie

We all celebrated Dina’s birthday with a quiet evening of pizza and beer at their new apartment, and I can only say that I am severely jealous of their apartment-their living room space and amazingly comfortable couch in particular. Allie even ventured to a fancy bakery and bought a cake and candles and everything. It was a beautiful, fancy looking cake that smelled like chocolate and wonderful things, but it was a lie. Despite being from a bakery named “Paris Baguette” it was still a Chinese cake-it just didn’t hit my cake craving sensors. The frosting was a little on the sweet side and the cake was not flavorful, too dry, a bit spongy and light. Other than the cake, though it was a very enjoyable night with the family.

Today was a day of small annoyances-showing up to my lesson on time, but the office being locked up, dark, and no one answering any phone calls, so I went to the grocery store to pick up a few baking necessities I lacked, in hopes of biking home, dropping the supplies off, and then returning to see if the office had opened for my afternoon class. I got a call as I was standing in line at the grocery store telling me that my student had showed up even though the door was still locked. I returned, since the school is five minutes from the grocery store. Little Peach saw me coming through the doors and ecstatically started shouting “Robot laoshi is here! Robot laoshi came! Hooray!” It was just one of those moments that made me really happy to be a part time English teacher. We waited another half hour before a girl showed up to unlock the door, causing my normally 11:00 lesson to start at 12:15, pushing right up against the lesson I usually start at 1:00. And this entire time I hadn’t eaten anything because I forgot to eat breakfast and had been counting on the hour break I normally have. Biking home was a challenge. I tossed together fried rice pretty quickly, chopping a fine dice on green peppers, carrots and broccoli, frying up an egg and very sparingly adding a few drops of Maggi and soy sauce.

I had a headache all afternoon and evening, but I was so pleased to be baking that it didn’t really matter until afterward. I took a bus, and then, frustrated by the slow wait, a cab, to the Frisbee strategy meeting, burdened with a backpack and grocery bag with all my supplies.

Brownie mix from a box, inherited from Bambi’s previous roommate, no reason for it to go to waste. I usually spice it up by adding Skors toffee bits, but I couldn’t find them anywhere, and put in M&Ms, Reeses Pieces bits, and broken up chocolate bars.

Almond Honey Cake. I’ve made this before and really liked it, but left the recipe in my recipe binder in America. I looked up several on tastespotting, and couldn’t find the exact one that I made before, so I cobbled a few recipes together.
A cup of almond paste (I used ground up almonds), a cup of butter (cubed, softened), 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup honey, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, vanilla and almond extract, 6 eggs.
Preheat the oven to 325. Butter and flour a cake pan. I don’t have parchment paper, so usually I line a pan with tin foil and then butter and flour it for easy removal and clean up.
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
Supposedly blend sugar and almonds and a little bit of flour and then pulse in the butter until fluffy, but I didn’t have a food processor so I beat the butter in with a fork. Added in the honey, extract, and eggs one by one. Lightly incorporated the dry ingredients, careful not to overmix, and then baked for one hour. I would recommend more flour and less butter because the final product was glistening and very moist, although very tasty.

I also made Ginger Honey Cookies, which I made my summer in Shenyang with my co-interns when we hosted an event for locals. They are very chewy, almost bread or cake like in texture, and I’m not sure that I’ll make them again. 1 1/2 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup crystallized ginger (I didn’t have any time to make it beforehand, so I used fresh grated ginger and ginger powder, but it’s best if you can candy the ginger beforehand or use store bought), 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, an egg and 1/2 cup honey.
The oven should be 350 for these. Mix the butter and brown sugar, beat until fluffy, add in honey and egg, then mix in the dry ingredients (previously whisked together). Spoonfuls of dough should be placed at least 2 inches apart because they spread a lot. Bake 10-14 minutes. I turned the pans around after about half way, and also, cooking time depends on if you like a little bit of crunch to the edges (I baked for the first batch for ten, and the second and third batch for 14 each).

I got to hold and coo over Baby M and she played with my locket and made growly noises and it was splendid. Then Baby M went to bed and I finished baking and joined the people who had been arguing about Frisbee for the past 2 1/2 hours and I got to listen to them argue for another hour and a half. My headache made its presence insistently known. Finally, at midnight, they decided to wrap up, but unfortunately, as Bambi and Ginny and I headed home, they continued their discussion throughout the cab ride and for another half hour at home. It never ends.

Food Things

I’ve been pretty lazy about documenting my food adventures, which was one of the reasons I started writing this anyway, so here’s a few things I’ve made and remembered to snap a couple photos.

Chicken or Vegetable Stock: All the veggies you have sitting in your fridge, like celery and onion, potato and sweet potato, carrots, what have you, lots of garlic and ginger, softened with some olive oil, then brought to a boil with lots of water, some soy sauce and Magi seasoning, salt, pepper, various herbs, and simmered for a good hour or two. Only made better by the addition of whatever chicken bits you have-a whole bird, a thigh, scraps of bone, all chopped up and tossed in there. If there’s chicken involved, occasionally skim the foam from the top and discard. I freeze mine in single portion containers, thaw them out as needed to add to soups, sauces, rice, etc.

Chicken Stock Simmering

I made hot chili oil by mincing leek, garlic and ginger, and mixing it with a lot of crushed red pepper flakes. I also coarsely chopped some dried red chilies. I heated up canola oil in a wok, then poured the boiling oil over it. I liberally add this to soy and vinegar for dumplings, put it in noodles, use it to season scrambled eggs, etc.

Hot Chili Oil. Goes With Everything.

Today for lunch I decided to use up the coconut milk that I had bought last week. I had an interesting chicken recipe I wanted to try, since it used coconut oil, and we just so happened to have a tiny bottle of coconut oil in the pantry (another item inherited from Bambi’s previous roommate).
The recipe was for a whole chicken, but I had some chicken thighs in the freezer so decided to use one instead, especially since it was just for me.
I salted and peppered both sides of the thawed thigh, then browned it in the coconut oil in a wok. I had cut up an onion and several scallions, roughly sliced up some ginger and crushed four cloves of garlic. After browning the chicken I turned the heat to low, tossed in the veggies, and seasoning: some salt, three or four teaspoons of sugar, a couple dashes of fish sauce, and a squirt of lime juice. About a cup of coconut milk, a cup and a half of chicken stock, and two cups of water (added in gradually to keep the liquid from boiling), stirred it all up and let it simmer slowly for about an hour.

Coconut Braised Chicken

I also made some coconut rice, to use up the remaining cup of coconut milk. One cup of rice, one cup of milk, two cups of water, salt. Seems simple enough. I have this vivid memory of eating a lovely meal at this restaurant called Stonecat in upstate New York-thinly sliced pan seared duck with a cherry glaze over coconut rice and it was all just heavenly, even for a 12 year old kid. I’ve tried upon two or three occasions with different recipes, but can never duplicate it. I always seem to mess up coconut recipes. Anyways, I didn’t really like how it tasted, but the liquid from the chicken was great, so when then rice was mostly done I strained it, rinsed it off, and finished the cooking with some of the chicken stock-coconut mixture. It came out better, but still not great. Disappointing.

Chicken over rice and broccoli for lunch

Anyways, I pulled the chicken off the bone and shredded it, served it over the rice with steamed broccoli. Turned out as a decent lunch although the braising method needs tweaking (it’s hard to control temperature on Chinese stoves since most Chinese dishes require high heat, even the lowest setting causes the wok to boil).

And some news that just made my day: tomorrow the important/experienced Frisbee people, which includes my two roommates, are having a strategy meeting at one guy’s house. He happened to recall that I am obsessed with baking, and has an oven and was like “oh, you guys should bring Robot so she can bake things if she wants” and oh boy am I ever going to bake things. Brownies are happening, and depending on if I can find either blanched almonds or ones that haven’t been salted and seasoned, either honey cake or almond honey cake, and probably one type of cookie. Baking overload. And this is Baby M’s dad. Chances that I also get to play with the most adorable child in the world are extremely high. I am the most excited.

We Live In A Giant Bucket

Allie and Dina joined us for dinner on Friday for a long overdue extended-family-reunion. We went to Jingzun Duck on Chunxiu Lu for kaoya, of course. I had been there about a month ago with another friend, but the duck is delicious and worth multiple visits. For starters we ordered boiled and spiced broad beans, which were quite interesting. I still haven’t decided if I liked them or not. Two ducks, duck soup, spinach and bamboo shoots, a few other dishes and to end, the delectable fried duck bones. Crispy and crunchy and salty and addictive. After dinner we all went back to our place for a quiet evening of light drinking. I really missed the girls-the apartment seems so empty without them.

I was awoken by the lovely and comforting chorus of construction giving me a headache at entirely too early in the morning. It sounded as if there was construction in our apartment. Stepping out of the shower, I was greeted by Bambi’s plaintive face, pouting. “Robot, can you make us eggs? We…we just…can’t.” I went to the kitchen where Ginny was standing, just staring, lost, into a bowl of eggs. Afraid that any attempts on their part might lead to fire or other disaster, I obligingly made breakfast.

We cabbed to practice, for an exciting three hours of running around, and by that I mean Bambi promptly lasered a disc into my ear from about six feet away. There is actually a little dent in the cartilage where it hit, and an angry red welt. Here’s my problem with some of the Frisbee people. There’s a group of us, mostly girls who have never played before, but also a few inexperienced guys, who are novices and need a little more instruction and practice and explanations. Some of the people who are good at the game/have been playing for longer than I’ve been alive, don’t quite seem to get that there is a difference between not having the skills and knowledge that comes from 15-25 years experience playing a sport, and being retarded. And so when they try to be helpful and explain things, they are just ass hats who talk to you like you’re drooling and hitting yourself and incapable of thought, but then get frustrated when you don’t immediately grasp a concept.

Afterward we all went back to the Shanxi restaurant in Dongzhimen and ate copious amounts of food and the best part is I got to play with Baby M (mostly by luring her by waving shiny things like my necklace and wallet in front of her). Somehow it developed that we were going to host a little pre gaming before heading out to some house parties. We met some of our neighbors when they were locked out, and people started filtering in. Things devolved rapidly, and it became evident no one was going to go anywhere. I was happy to sit and socialize and sip slowly or not at all, but no one else felt like being moderate. More people showed up and the boys insisted on playing flip cup, beirut and slap cup. Hilarity and messes ensued, and broken pottery. This is why we can’t have nice things. Drunk people ended up sleeping in and spilling stuff all over my bed. Resignedly, I spent the night on our most uncomfortable couch after throwing my sheets in the washer (this is when I could really use a dryer).

I woke up before my alarm went off and just a few moments before A-yi walked in the door-not enough time to do anything but look bewildered at the horrible mess left in the living room. My first thought-I live in a giant bucket. I’m pretty sure A-yi has the worst opinion of me, and I always feel the urge to explain to her that I’m not a waste of life, and the mess was not my fault nor was it my fault I was on the couch and not my bed and really I have my life together and I’m kind of a functioning adult. I don’t think she would believe me. I biked to my 9 AM lesson, and received a text from Ginny, telling me that he lives in a giant bucket. After class A-yi was still cleaning up the living room so I went to Bambi’s room to take a nap. I basically dropped like a stone on his bed and he grumbled “I live in a giant bucket.” Oh family.

I rallied enough to do productive things like order water and a whole mess of Xinjiang food. The most delicious fried bread with lamb, noodles with beef, di san xian, fried rice, eggplant and pork, all the favorites, and we watched some of Harry Potter before I left for my afternoon lessons.

Let me tell you about helicopter moms. They’re annoying. I was to teach a boy for two 50 minute sessions. I got there a little early and they had me start right away. After 50 minutes, I thought we both could use a bathroom/water break. I told him he had five minutes. His mother sees him walking down the hallway, comes in and asks me if class is over? Her son can use the bathroom after class. Okay, no break for your son then, but 9 year old goobers usually don’t pay attention very well for long periods of time and this kid was getting real antsy. Making noise, intentionally dropping markers, flipping through the books, bouncing up and down and around in his seat, I figured he could use a break and so could I before stabby things happened. Then, 20 minutes later, the mother sent in one of the girls to tell me she’s worried about her son and he needs to have a five minute break. OK, I mean, there were only about 20 minutes left of class. Then when class wrapped up she was like, no, you took a break you should still be teaching for ten more minutes, even though I started class ten minutes early in the first place. Frustrating.

After that class I had a demo, followed by a group class. As I was setting up the classroom, I overheard another English teacher vehemently turning down the class because he refused to teach multiple children. I thought he was just being his annoying self (the first thing he did when he met me was insult me for being American), since three kids can’t be that bad, right?

Well, it wasn’t horrible but I came home absolutely exhausted. Three adorable six year old kids, two boys and a girl. I feel like if I had them one on one, they would all be smart and productive and adorable. But they play off each other and are crazy energetic. One boy starts every sentence with “Teacher” and had a temper tantrum because I didn’t skip a page, the other boy doesn’t speak, and the little girl started using me as a jungle gym. It was a long lesson. And the mom was desperately asking if I’d teach them if I had time for them, if they weren’t that bad. I mean, the two boys are still young enough to be adorable and they’re bright, even if they’re rambunctious. We’ll see. I also might be teaching Chef and Chairman English, which would make my life-spending time with two hilarious people, getting paid, and being fed another free lunch. Wantwantwant.

You Win, Bank of China. Now Give Me My Money, Please?

I hope everyone had a fun filled and green and possibly boozy Saint Patrick’s day yesterday.

So I have these two students, they have vaguely similar names. Let’s call them Jiayi and Jay. That’s about how similar they are-sure, I guess they both start with “J” but they are very different sounding, as in, if someone were to call me up and tell me that Jay had canceled class, I would show up for the class that I had scheduled with Jiayi. Only to wait there for half an hour and then be told that it was Jiayi who canceled, and clearly I made the mistake. Oh wait, except who is the native English speaker? Oh yeah, that would be me. Waste of my goddamn time. Every time there is a scheduling mis-communication it’s because this one girl who calls me and tells me the wrong thing, and then when I get to the office at the wrong time/day/don’t show up, tells the other girls it’s because I’m an idiot. Frustrating.

After sitting around doing nothing and then realizing that I had, in fact, been misinformed, I went to my cooking class at the Kitchen which was therapeutic and filled with tasty to things to eat. Another class with the adorable Peach in the afternoon, and then I met Bambi and Ginny for pizza and trivia with a thermos of “tea.” And by tea I mean the Irish kind and by that I mean Jameson, because clearly even in Beijing this part-Irish girl is going to celebrate in style, and by celebrate in style I mean the boys asked me to bring them whiskey. How they are corrupting me. I ordered a coffee, and the waitress nodded and said right away, and then just disappeared and never came back. Twenty minutes later, I flagged down another waiter and asked where my coffee was. “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have any.” Well, okay, then, why didn’t the first girl tell me that? I ordered a tea with lemon instead and fashioned myself a delicious hot toddy. It was a fairly calm and quiet night after trivia, more Star Wars and tea and bed at a reasonably early hour.

I needed to pay rent this morning. In order to do that I needed to access my money. Good thing for me, I have two sources for that-my Bank of China account, and my Bank of America account, because Bank of China did not want to cooperate, and I had to withdraw from my American account.

Bank of China refused to validate my pin number, so I went online to check it out. Bank of China has the least intuitive website in the world that doesn’t allow you to register your online account until you download some creepy security program they insist upon, and also until you open a telephone account. Bank of China instructed me to call a number. Bank of China has an English option where a robot voice mumbles in the most unintelligible English I’ve ever heard. Honestly, I am unable to register the account that I have already opened because I can’t understand a goddamn word of something that is supposedly in my own language. This is vaguely problematic and by vaguely I mean I don’t want to download some random program onto my computer that I have no idea of what it will do, and I was able to make out that I need to in put some numbers on the phone call, but I have no idea which ones, and really, I would like to be able to use my bank account.

More classes await, and then seeing if I can fix Bambi’s pants-Ginny borrowed a pair of Bambi’s khakis to wear to the office and then somehow ripped a hole in the side without being aware of it, and of course neither of them can sew. Sometimes, I feel like their mother.

A Very Blustery Day

Going back and forth from work on Tuesday was incredibly trying, fighting the wind. The only way to describe it is blustery. The wind has been steadily picking up the past couple days-the effort it took to bike back seemed nearly double the usual. Biking home was against the wind the entire way, and at one point I thought I was going to be blown backwards. I got home and my resolve to work out disappeared, although I did walk to both the Wumart and the vegetable market.

So my sorghum grain and cauliflower experiment didn’t go very well. It all ended up being a bland mush. I overcooked the sorghum (put it in the rice cooker with what I hoped was the right amount of water. Whoops). I followed a recipe that I had found online for a “curry sauce” but it was just coconut milk, curry powder, some chili powder, salt and black pepper to make a sort of vinaigrette. I had also added in some tofu for extra protein. I can only describe the sorghum as a bland, mushy barley experience. The whole thing wasn’t terrible, and pretty healthy if you think about it: steamed cauliflower, whole grains, protein, some seasoning, no oil, a little bit of salt. Bambi didn’t like it, Ginny ate a bowl but didn’t love it, and was reminded of the mush from the Matrix-highly nutritional, but otherwise…bleh. I will not be making this again. I didn’t even bother taking a picture, it’s just…beige. A big bowl of off-white.

I spent most of my afternoon trying to plan out what country to go visit (my visa requires I leave China every 90 days. What a great excuse to see the rest of Asia!). My choices were Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Hong Kong and Taipei. My biggest issues: I don’t really speak the languages of the cheaper destinations, and I have to get over my fear/dislike of traveling by myself. I would most like to go back to Taipei to visit friends and family, and I’m most familiar/comfortable with it, but at this point it’s the least likely, and I should really try to go to new countries. So I’ve decided to go to Seoul for a day and a half, mostly because it’s the cheapest and the shortest plane ride. I’ve got just over 24 hours since I’ll be arriving late in the evening and leaving early in the morning, and I’m trying to plan out the most efficient, enjoyable speed tourism. It would be a lot simpler if Google maps would work, but China seems to really dislike me having a functioning internet.

Feeling a bit sniffly when I woke up this morning, I decided to make chicken soup for lunch. I softened some onion and carrot with minced garlic and ginger, then added chicken stock I made yesterday and some water. I diced up a chicken breast, beat in water salt, and cornstarch, and quickly tossed it in some oil (I don’t like chicken soup where the meat is dry and tough and boiled), and added it into the soup. Brought it to a boil then lowered heat to a simmer. Added in some of the steamed but unseasoned cauliflower from yesterday cut into tiny florets, and an egg beaten with some milk and chili oil (my version of egg-drop soup). Lastly I tossed in some of the cooked but unseasoned sorghum from yesterday as well. Seasoned with salt, a generous amount of black pepper and some Magi seasoning (this stuff is magical. I use it in everything, if you hadn’t noticed). The soup came out very well and healthy and all that.

Things I want to try to make in the near future: steamed or braised chicken with coconut milk and pandan (I just have to find some pandan), stove top macaroni and cheese, or possibly stove top lasagna as I just stumbled across a recipe for it, and I’ll probably throw together another batch of Bolognese sauce since I have a bag of tomatoes and to tide the boys over when I’m gone (I mean, I’m only going to be away 2 nights but I have my doubts on them feeding themselves…)

And now back I go to Wumart since we’ve somehow decimated the all juice and yogurt that I bought yesterday.

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