Rainy Nights

I stumbled across a fresh ricotta recipe and the pictures were so tempting I ran out to Jenny Lou’s, bought milk and cream and lemons, and tried to make it right away. I was so excited for the idea of whole-milk ricotta (as opposed to traditional twice cooked, using whey form hard cheese making), which would be cheaper and tastier than buying a container of ricotta from JL (seriously, milk + cream + lemon < cheese). I cooked the milk and cream, stirred in some lemon juice, let it sit, then strained it. And nothing. An exercise in abject failure. The milk mixture curdled and then…un-curdled? Went right through the cheesecloth layers and strainer. Incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Maybe I over or undercooked the milk–I supposed I should invest in a thermometer one of these days.

This afternoon, the rain finally broke. After a gray and miserable morning, by late afternoon it was blue skies and warm, golden sun. Beautiful. I guess they got tired of shooting up silver nitrate. Another torrential downpour started last night while I was laying in bed. It absolutely sucks to get stuck in the rain when you're on a bike, cabs are even harder to get, it's dirty rain, and my flats are maybe 2 thunderstorms from disintegrating. But I love rain when I don't have somewhere to be, love the thunder and lightning, and wish there was a quiet wooded parking lot where I could sit in a car and watch rain stream down and the refraction of the headlights through the rain drops on the windows and feel secure and safe. Beijing is not really the kind of place where you can run around outside barefoot during a storm, which is one of my favorite spring and summer things to do.

It made me nostalgic, the rain. When it was all dark and stormy, I just wanted to curl up with a cup of tea and some cake, and either a good book or a notebook and pen and scribble my thoughts down.

I was fifteen. Very new to the concept of being pretty. The last traces of my awkward middle school years left me that year, and quite suddenly I was slender instead of stick-thin knees and elbows, bright smile instead of braces. I was learning how to tastefully apply makeup, and not just slap glitter on my eyelids. My athleticism lent me grace and poise. Somehow, I was learning how to flirt. My unfortunately boyish haircut finally grew out, people stopped confusing me for a boy.

It's late March, or maybe early April. Late evening, the sky black and heavy with clouds. My parents are gone for the evening, my older sister is absorbed in some project. I sit in the study chatting to people online, staring out the window making moody faces at my reflection. He is online, and I am wracking my brains to come up with clever or pithy things to say. It is more challenging and agonizing than I had realized. He is a friend of my sister's, a senior, a musician and an artist and therefore, intriguing. I had flashed him a few shy smiles now and then when we talked at school. Amazingly, he seemed interested in having conversations with me.

The rain is like a siren call. I can't stay inside any longer. I slip out the front door, barefoot, in a tank top. The day had been gloriously hot and sunny, and now, the air is filled with the clean steamy fragrance of rain hitting the sun-soaked pavement, and fresh mud. I dance. I skip and laugh. I jump in puddles and wiggle my toes in the mud and wet grass and stand underneath a street lamp, in the warm pool of orange glow, head tilting towards the sky, liquid light streaming over my eyes and face and mouth. My hair, a long black cascade melding with the water, clinging to my bare shoulders. Feet mud spattered, clothes absolutely soaked.

He lives around the corner from me, in a charming blue two family house. A spark of an idea has wriggled into my brain, getting brighter, bolder. I splash up and down the street, passing his house once, twice. Slowly building up courage. A hop skip and jump up the slate-and-white-gravel path to the front door, followed by a petrified scramble backwards away from the door. Stopping, breathing, turning back resolutely. I slowly walk back up to the door, reading and rereading the name above the bell just to be sure. Breathing in a confidence I certainly do not feel, holding my breath and pressing the bell. I can hear and feel every heartbeat like a hammer blow. Footsteps. Please, please don't let anyone else come to the door.

I paste an impish grin on my face and look up through fern-like eyelashes, water dripping from them, green eyes as big and puppy-ish as I can make them. "I'm bored. Come play with me in the rain?" I don't allow the thought that he might say no to cross my mind. I don't even let him get a jacket.

We walk for blocks around our neighborhood. Sit on the swings of our old elementary school. Talk about everything and nothing. Sometimes he just watches as I play around like a little kid. What must he think of me, this crazy, brazen, foolish child in front of him? I don't allow myself to think about that either. Sometimes we walk in silence, side by side, almost but never quite touching. The rain eventually abates to a drizzle. I'm soaked to the skin, my fingers death white, my skin puckering in the cold, and I'm trying hard to keep my voice from quavering. But he notices, and insists we go back home.

We sit in his kitchen. It's small and snug, and I'm wrapped up in a large, borrowed sweatshirt. I perch on the chair hugging my knees to my body and watch as he tinkers around with the stove and a kettle and eventually produces a tea kettle complete with cozy and two mugs of strong, sweet tea. I didn't even know people still used tea cozies outside of Britain, so I'm trying not to laugh as I wrap pale fingers around the warm cup. We sip our tea and listen to the rain, which has picked up again, and occasionally words drift out into the silence. Eventually, though, I have to return home. I get a hug before I slide out the door and run barefoot hair snaking out behind me, dodging the rain drops.

I float home again, where no one has noticed my absence, back into the study, back to the computer, wrap myself around another mug of tea, making more faces at my reflection in the window's darkness. Thinking over everything that we talked about and everything we didn't say and wondering why he didn't kiss me and slightly relieved that he didn't.

Soup Days

Today is another in a string of Soup Days. The weather is fantastically disgusting, and has been for the past week. Rain. Rain for days. Usually at night, or during the middle of the day, so I could avoid it, and watch from the comfort of my well air-conditioned room. However, Thursday morning as I left for work, the skies opened for a torrential downpour. I actually had to ford three rivers-that-used-to-be-streets to get to the office. My shoes were completely soaked–the water in the streets was halfway up my calf. The thunderstorms aren’t bringing any relief to the air, however. When it’s not raining the sky is a cement gray, the air is filled with toxic fog. It’s hot and soupy, walking into a damp towel or a broken sauna. Biking is like struggling through pea soup. I hate being outside. I refused to go to Summer League yesterday the air was so awful–I walked outside to go to Wumart and just standing there broke into a sweat.

Very little of anything exciting has happened lately. Well, besides me realizing that sometimes I really just am absurd. I came home, tossed my purse on my bed and went to get a drink of water. Ginny, playing with Hector, decided to throw him onto my bed. “No don’t let Hector get on my bed he’ll find the bacon in my bag!” “What?” “Don’t let Hector on my bed, he’ll find the bacon in my purse.” “…Robot, normal girls don’t carry bacon in their purses.” Well, it’s not my fault that Jenny Lou charges for grocery bags and I have a big roomy purse so I stop and pick up a few things like bacon and cheese and carry them home in my purse instead of a separate bag like ‘normal’ people. Well, you can’t say I’m not enjoying life, at least. Because I enjoy life. And bacon.

I’ve been trying to eat healthily (mostly precipitated by an evening where I ate potato chips for dinner because I was too tired to care). Mostly that entails ordering salads for lunch, eating a lot of sweet potatoes, chick peas and cucumbers at home, and trying to eat more fruit. Yesterday, I finished off the jiaozi filling that I froze a few weeks ago. With the humidity, I didn’t even bother trying to make the skins myself, but bought them freshly made at the vegetable market. For 3 kuai, I get a bag of fifty skins. It’s cheap and much easier than making them myself, although I have to use them the day they’re bought. Ayi was impressed that I knew how to fold the dumplings and tried to help, but gave up after two. I have had a lot of practice, what with my mom always making wontons for family get togethers and impressing my sisters and me to help. Made some more chili oil since our stock was depleted: mince together garlic, ginger, leek and mash with torn up dried red chili and chili powder, then ladle boiling oil over the paste, store in jar. I keep mine in the fridge to avoid any nasty botulism or whatever, since we don’t use it that frequently at home.

I did finally find the money to go on my tailor shopping spree. Unfortunately, even buying a lot and getting a good deal from the tailor Bambi recommended via his old boss, it was more expensive than I’d hoped for. I had to let go of a shirt and dress that I had wanted, but I’m still getting 10 items of clothing for about RMB 2700, and considering that that includes a three piece wool suit, a dress, jacket, skirt, pants and three shirts, I’m still pleased. I also decided to get a bed sheet set made, since the ones I bought at Wumart are pretty awful (and China apparently just doesn’t sell fitted sheets). There’s a fabric/pillow/blanket making shop down the street from us. Their fabric selection was pretty awful, but I found one not-too-offensive striped blue pattern that didn’t include flowers, words, or horrible clashing colors. I had some trouble trying to explain fitted sheet, because the word in the dictionary “zhuang chuan dan” isn’t correct. I got a little frustrated when they didn’t understand at first, trying to explain that it was the sheet underneath that wraps around the bed, and even trying to draw it, but then I remembered the word for corner–“jiao” and that’s when they realized what I was trying to say. For your information, if you are trying to get fitted bed sheets made, they’re called “chuang li.” Altogether, it cost just about 180 kuai for a flat sheet (they hemmed the flat sheet in five minutes, but took overnight to make the fitted) and a fitted sheet, which is actually less than what I paid at Wumart originally.

I made Thai fried chicken, sticky rice and green chili dipping sauce for dinner tonight. This is a plan ahead meal, since you need to let things sit and soak. First of all, let the sticky rice soak for 8 hours. This is not regular rice, its sold as “glutinous” or sticky rice in the store, and the grains are whiter than normal rice (jasmine is my idea of normal rice). Marinate the chicken–mince or mash up 6 or 7 cloves of garlic, 2 Tbs of coriander seed, 1 Tbs white pepper, and 2 Tbs cilantro (I couldn’t find any cilantro, so the coriander seed will have to do). Mix this with 3 Tbs of fish sauce, 3 Tbs of oyster sauce and a Tbs of chili powder. I bought little wings and drums from Jenny Lou, mixed these together with the marinade, and stuck it in the fridge for 6 hours.

The dipping sauce is something that I’ve been craving from my chef-friend. I had a really great winter before I came to Beijing, having the good fortune to befriend her at a fundraiser and then to be invited to hang out at this celebrity chef’s restaurant kitchen was astounding. Being able to learn and cook and serve real customers (while getting paid in delicious food) was really an amazing experience. One of the dishes she served was based off the Thai chicken and sticky rice, and she served it with what the staff at the restaurant called “crack sauce.” Spicy, green, it had chilies and lime juice and fish sauce and was a little sweet. Clear, with flecks of green herbs and chilies. Dipping either the chicken or the sticky rice into the sauce was amazing, and addictive, hence the “crack.” I recently came across an article talking about her new restaurant, which brought back fond memories of amazing meals, the crack sauce in particular. I never had the chance to ask for the recipe, so I tried to recreate it.

The first recipe I found online looked promising. 2 large green hot peppers, 3 cloves garlic, 5-6 birds eye chilies, 3 chopped shallots, 3 Tbs palm sugar (I used a mix of brown and castor sugar), 3 Tbs lime juice, 2 Tbs fish sauce. It tastes good and almost the same, but it’s not the sauce I’m looking for, since you blend all the ingredients together and it’s an opaque, almost paste-like sauce. Next time I might try just birds eye chili, fish sauce, lime, sugar, cilantro, rice wine, and ginger sliced up and not blended. Also, the recipe only called for 5-6 birds eye chilies and now I have a big package of them and no idea what to do with the rest. Unfortunately, when I was seeding some of the chilies the capsicum or whatever juices got under my nails, and even after thorough scrubbing with soap, the tip of my left thumb is tingly and painful.

After letting the rice soak and the chicken marinate in the morning, do stuff that works up an appetite–like bike to work, teach adorable children, iron all your laundry, work on your resume and job applications, play with your nipping little kitten, pick up your fitted bed sheet–then get started. Make your chicken batter: 3/4 cup of rice flour, 3/4 cup of regular flour, 2 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp of salt, and 1 1/2 cups of water. Beat that together and also, heat a wok full of oil (soybean, in my case, but any low burning oil like sunflower/corn/vegetable) to about 350F. Dip the chicken into the batter, and immediately “fry until done” says the recipe I found. More research on the internet told me that this meant about 8-12 minutes. When done, lay on a plate lined with paper towels to drain off extra oil.

I don’t have a steamer basket (I never bothered to buy one at Dongjiao Kitchen Market since there’s a large-holed steamer tray in my rice cooker, which is suitable for dumplings, just about the only thing I steam), and none of the grocery stores around me sell them. Making sticky rice traditionally just isn’t worth the trek to Dongjiao, so I improvised. Used a metal sieve, small enough netting that rice wouldn’t slip through (you could line with cheese cloth or coffee filters, which I would do with a traditional bamboo steamer) and slipped that in a pot with two inches of boiling water. Covered and steamed for 15 minutes (shaking half way to redistribute the rice to cook evenly).

The best way to eat this? Hands on! Roll the sticky rice in little balls and dip in the sauce (carefully, because it’s really quite piquant). I served this with very simple sliced cucumber because I needed to include a vegetable but didn’t feel like cooking anything else. It all came out very well. The bottom of the sticky rice was a little soggy because I put too much water in the pot, but I just scraped the bottom off and the rest of it was the perfect consistency. The chicken was crispy and bubbly on the outside, moist and delicious (careful with the temperature of the oil, or the outside will burn before the inside cooks). And despite not being exactly what I was looking for, the dipping sauce was spicy-sweet and addictive on everything.

Thai fried chicken, sticky rice and green chili sauce

Amateur Construction Hour

He's plotting his revenge

My poor baby kittenface getting tortured. He got his revenge on my iPad cord.

Sunday’s Sangria afternoon turned out to be a raging success with an overabundance of delicious food. My shrimp and stuffed mushrooms were a hit, but there was also gungho pizza, a chunky and garlicky gazpacho, spiced chick peas, salad, cheese and crusty bread, cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, and bacon soaked in maple syrup and baked. We had mango and ordered poptarts from Jenny Lou’s by delivery because two of the girls had never eaten them before, and the rest of us decided that that was a travesty. We watched a torrential downpour from the safety and comfort of a cool, spacious 21st floor apartment. Lovely.

This morning I was woken rudely up by amateur construction hour, which apparently starts at 6:30 am. About maybe 2-3 months ago I complained quite a bit about two weeks of constant noise from our idiot neighbors at all sorts of retarded hours, and how I could just tell they were doing it all wrong. Then it blissfully went away and I forgot about it. Well, they’re back at it, unfortunately. I spent two hours trying to drown out noise ineffectually with a pillow, and went to work all baggy-eyed and grumpy (not to mention, on my way, some crazy woman sideswiped me with her bike handle, leaving a big bruise on my arm). When I walked out of my room, Ginny was sitting in the living room glowering about how much he hated China.

I came home after work today and was sitting in my room when I heard a faint knock at my door. Went outside to see Ginny puzzled, paused mid workout, while two middle aged Chinese people were talking at him in rapid fire pace in the doorway. “Do you have any idea what they’re saying to me?” he asked. After getting them to repeat it, it turns out that they our our neighbors who-share-a-wall from the next building over, and they wanted to take a look at our window nook room so they can figure out how to fix their room. I let them come upstairs and take a look because really I had no idea what they were saying besides “neighbor” “fix it” and “window upstairs”

OK, crazy people, wake us up stupid o’clock in the morning with your incessant and poorly conducted amateur construction and then ask to come tour our apartment at random hours of the night. Next time I hear the hammering and drilling and abuse of power tools I will know exactly whose face I should hate. You, little man and quiet hand flapping wife, I will be hating and wishing horrible things upon you.

Hector is a Menace

Hector is an adorable, lovable, absolute terror. I had to give him a bath a few days ago and he was distinctly not a fan. Afterwards, he chewed up my iPad charger as revenge. He started going crazy over a package of crackers I was eating and actually stole one from my hand. When I tried to take it back, he growled like a tiny rottweiler. He also tried to steal part of my peanut butter jelly sandwich yesterday. He’s learned to jump up on my bureau and now if I leave my door open, he’ll come in and try to play with all my makeup and jewelry.

I’ve been on a bit of a cooking spree this week. I made a spice rub flank steak with sauteed veggies and smashed baby potatoes. The spice rub is pretty simple: cinnamon, cloves, a dash of hot peppet, cumin, cardamom, and ginger and garlic mashed up with a pestle and mortar into a paste. Rub in into the steak and let it marinate for at least 8 hours. Grill, or broil if you’re in China without a grill, for 7 minutes a side. Boiled the baby potatoes for 15 minutes, smashed them with a cleaver, tossed in olive oil and pepper, then baked for 15 minutes.

A friend of mine from Taiwan rolled into town on Wednesday, and we went to Baoyuan Jiaoziwu. It’s the first time I’d had to order by myself, since usually I go with crack-dumpling addicts. We got purple crispy rice dumplings, green eggplant, sweet potato and wild pepper, and orange corn and zucchini dumplings. Delicious, as always.

We went to Apothecary, in Nali Patio, after, on the recommendations of some friends. The whiskey cocktails were delicious, although a tad on the pricey side. He had lived here a few years ago, and we talked a lot about how Beijing had completely changed in just 3 years. I sort of felt that way going back to Taipei last summer after 5 years, but I think Beijing is much more drastic in how it tried to constantly overhaul and modernize itself. I dragged him out to Kro’s Nest for trivia on Thursday, and to our surprise, he knew some of the same people I knew. Sometimes, Beijing is a really small city.

Saturday I made it out to Summer League frisbee at the Para-Olympic fields. The fields were so nice-lush grass and even and perfect, until these bright yellow speckled centipedes started emerging and crawling up my cleats. I’m not very squeamish, but insects make my skin crawl. Our team lost, but we played well, and against a team that had most of Beijing’s better players. It was a good time, and much less intense than normal Ultimate (no one yelling at me!). Unfortunately, as I was standing around after talking to some people, this girl accidentally nailed me in the crotch with a Frisbee. It literally knocked me on my ass. And that apparently was a sign from the universe that all projectiles that evening would be magnetically drawn to the same area. Seriously, we went to dinner at the usual Shanxi place and like always people started playing “caps” by throwing beer caps into each others’ cups, and most of the time, even when not aiming for me, the caps hit me instead.

Some people went to watch some big soccer game but, well, I’m not quite a fan of sports watching. So i got some sleep and cuddled with hector and woke up bright and early to make Gambas Al Ajillo and stuffed mushrooms for the Frisbee ladies’ tapas afternoon.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any frozen raw shrimp, so I had a package of pre-cooked shrimp. De-veined them and seasoned with salt and pepper. Browned several crushed garlic cloves in olive oil, added chopped up dried red chilies and butter to the oil, a liberal splash of a dry white wine, then sauteed the shrimp.

Stem the mushrooms, place them flat side down on a baking dish and bake to get some of the moisture out. Mix bread crumbs, finely minced mushroom stems, celery and half an onion with an egg, a dash of oil, garlic ginger and salt and pepper. Pat the mushroom caps dry and stuff them, bake for 30 minutes at 160 C.

I am looking forward to an afternoon of sangria and crusty bread and cheese and chocolate fondue.

Thunderstorm

A surprisingly clean and clear and gorgeous morning in Beijing. The sky is a bright clean blue with a few wispy puffs of cloud floating lazily when I step out of my front door.
Perhaps not that surprising. Last night the sky was red and wracked with violent lightning. It was the rain that woke me, at three o’clock in the morning pounding against my window, and as I went to the kitchen for a drink of water, drumming hard on the skylight nook, but the lightning kept me awake. I pulled my shades up and watched the sky shimmer, patches of light in every direction, sometimes a crisp jagged line striking nearby. The lightning lasted for over an hour, and the rain for much longer. So the morning is bright and clean and sunny, the air is cool and refreshing. It’s a nice change from yesterday, the oppressive, relentlessly gray skies, the soupy air. Hot, thick, I could feel the air against my skin. Almost enough to reach out and grab and handful and wring out the pollutants.

Leigh and I have discovered we work incredibly near each other, so have started meeting up for lunch, buying the BHG cold noodles and sitting by a newly erected and poorly constructed replica of , eating cold noodles and sitting next to a newly erected (and poorly constructed) replica of the Thinker. Dina and I went to the Silk Market to buy work-appropriate blouses, but instead we both fell in love with an adorable denim skirt and bought them instead. The touristy markets always annoy me because of the hassle of bargaining and the absurd prices they first offer, but it’s what I can afford these days.

Since a lot of my kids start to cancel sporadically over the summer, I’ve decided to get a third part-time job, calling US companies and holding video interviews during the early morning or late evening. I had a test interview last week, and took my lunch hour from my internship. Stretching my legs under the summer sun, praying I wasn’t sweating through my shirt. It’s stifling inside, worse than outside. I sit next to the camera, reading off questions in English and Chinese, trying not to laugh as a fluffy white cat sneaks out under the camera’s field of vision and starts to paw at the backdrop and a potted palm. My interviewer took us to lunch at Bite-a-Pita, in Sanlitun. I had heard of it, but it was my first meal there. Generous falafel sandwiches; warm, pillowy pita stuffed with crispy-crusted falafel, crunchy bits of cucumber, pepper, and tzatziki. A bite into the sandwish reveals the steamy soft, startlingly mint green inside of the falafel balls.

Bambi went back home for a while, for his last dinner we went to a restaurant just to the south of us. The food is good but their seats are the most ridiculous–low tables and uncomfortably low chairs, leaving me feeling folded up and awkward as origami, and I’m short, I can’t imagine how annoying it was for the boys. It had been a pretty long week and I had taught until 8:30, once I got home I put on a long tunic and refused to put on pants. We had dumplings drowning in a spicy broth, gongbao jiding, overly salted braised pork with flat wide noodles in soup, and a platter of lightly stir fried vegetables.

I tried to organize some people to go to yang tui again but I ended up at Allie and Dina’s place. We went to a family-style restaurant nearby. The food was delicious-a cold and spicy cucumber coriander salad, sweet and sour pork, lamb chuanr, but as I was eating I was suddenly overcome with a queer feeling that something was not right. I sat very, very still, until I was certain it would not go away, then borrowed Allie’s keys, walked home very slowly but determinedly, and luckily made it to their bathroom before I projectiled all of the lovely meal, and curled up on the couch. The girls sat with me as I drank juice and we watched several episodes of my new favorite obsession, Misfits.

After a very low key weekend, Allie and I got manicures and pedicures at the little hole in the wall at her grocery store. For 120 yuan, I got the whole works, plus a new pumice stone and toes separator, plus two adorable flowers appliqued on my thumbnails. Looking at my fingernails still makes me giggle.
Allie has the best fruit cart people by her apartment. I stopped on my way home for a bag of peaches, mangoes, mangosteens, plums, and lychees.

Pollution returned with full force to Beijing Monday morning. I couldn’t even see the end of our block. Biking outside made me feel like my lungs were turning black.
After a long day of research and teaching, I made it home, got some great news from my family, and decided to cook food instead of going to the gym.

A quick fried rice, but I had no vegetables, so just garlic, ginger, leek and egg. A simple reduced version of mapo tofu without the bean paste–lightly poach cubed tofu, saute ground beef with soy sauce, Magi seasoning, chicken bouillon a little bit of rice wine and fish sauce, minced garlic and ginger and torn up dried red chili, add back the tofu and let it simmer for a bit. Also, I made yuxiang or “fish fragrant” eggplant, which turned out very well.

Two long eggplant sliced and quartered (skin on). Lightly coated with cornstarch, then fried in the wok (make sure the eggplant gets a good fry on all surface, to get a good texture)in light oil (the recipe calls for deep frying but I didn’t want to). Add in minced ginger, leek and torn up dried red chili. After a few minutes, add in the sauce–two table spoons of soy sauce, chicken stock, sugar, a table spoon of rice wine, vinegar, and a little bit of Magi, and cornstarch that’s been dissolved into water. Mix it all about, let the sauce thicken. Serve.

Happy Independence Day

Happy Birthday America!
There’s something about being an ex-pat that makes July 4 really special. At least, for me, I feel a little more homesick and patriotic than normal. But that may just be because I know my whole family is on a beautiful clean lake swimming and sailing and having bonfires and drinking delicious wine and there’s a couch-sized pile of fireworks to be set off and last year at this time I was floating on a little inflatable raft in said lake with a bottle of said delicious wine relaxing my face off.

It’s been a busy but good week. I sold, in total, 800 tickets to our event, over half in the last week, so I was constantly on the phone and running around like a crazy person. I was mistaken for an actual Chinese person on the phone several more times, which was gratifying, although that immediately led to bullet-speed Chinese I couldn’t understand and I had to disillusion them right away. Wednesday a friend from high school rolled through Beijing so I took him to Jing Zun Duck on Chunxiu Lu again (its our go to place for out of town/special occasion duck, since it’s good and reasonably priced). Although it was a Wednesday, I also took him to Sanlitun after, and told him to imagine it was full of drunk kids. We went to Enoterra and sat on the patio, which was lovely even with a fog of pollution obscuring the skyline. Shared a bottle of nice, almost decently priced Cabernet and reminisced about high school and mutual acquaintances.

Having to work my event Sunday, I switched my teaching hours to Saturday. A few canceled, so I had a lovely 3 hours break in the middle of the day, which I used to go home and bring the boys McDonald’s because I knew they were living in a bucket after their evening. We met with more friends that evening for a meal at some little hole in the wall restaurant on a back street of Dongzhimen. The food was good although the chuanr were overly spicy and I couldn’t eat more than one. A relaxing evening of friends and video games, and a few people trying to convince us to go out to some club but we went home at midnight (I had to argue with a belligerent rickshaw driver trying to convince us that the three of us (two over 6 foot boys and myself) could fit comfortably in his rickshaw. I’ve done that once and it will never be repeated, but the driver was so insistent. It was annoying.

Sunday was the long awaited work event. Things went mostly smoothly although there’s definitely room for improvement all around, and I think I have some streamlining suggestions to make. I worked basically the entire time, although some people were very nice and brought me food and beverages throughout. The weather turned out to be perfect-sunny, a bit on the hot and humid side, and I definitely picked up a few more freckles. I also got a few people interested in my resume after having been such a help, which makes everything worthwhile because it’s really high time I started looking for a job for when the internship ends.

Met up with my friend Leia afterwards to buy shoes. She found this amazing store that has real shoes (actual brands, that won’t fall apart like the silk market fake bargain crap and are actually comfortable). Even discounted, they’re quite expensive, and I paid more than I should have for an exquisite pair of dark beige suede pumps, but they are…well, exquisite. My-legs-look-hot-I’m-having-a-mini-crisis exquisite. I continued my spending spree with a skirt from Mango (but it was hugely discounted!) and we had Spanish tapas for dinner. A little on the pricey side, but light and delicious–marinated eggplant, grilled baby squid with sweet tomatoes, anchovy and avocado crostini, and artichoke skewers. It turned out to be a perfect amount of food which, pricey as it is, I like about tapas because you eat proper, human sized servings instead of giant bowls of oily deep fried carbohydrates.

My supervisor was so pleased with all my work that she gave me today off which made my life. I slept in for the first time in….weeks (I woke up at seven, remembered work wasn’t happening, and blissfully went back to sleep). Did laundry, biked to April Gourmet (pricier than Jenny Lou’s and less convenient although their meat selection looked better) for ingredients and then got sucked into Comptoirs de France for some overly expensive macarons (I will be packing/not eating lunch for the rest of the week).

The fourth is for family and so I insisted the boys be home for dinner and invited Allie and Dina. I made a quick and simple pasta salad: Boil one package of farfalle. Thinly slice a carrot and zucchini, and sugar snap peas, and briefly stir fry them with a little oil and salt. Toss the vegetables in the pasta with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a table spoon or so of pesto, some parmesan and lemon zest. Refrigerate.

Then I made shredded beef tacos. I really wish my camera wasn’t broken because this was beautiful, based on a recipe I found on Tastespotting for tri-tip. I bought about a kilo roast from April Gourmet. Soaked it in brine for a few hours while I did laundry and was generally productive. Made a dry rub of cumin, salt, red chili powder, paprika, sugar, salt, black pepper, ground ginger, all about 1/2-1 tsp. Patted the roast dry and rubbed it down and let it sit for a little while I diced 4 cloves of garlic, half an onion and two jalapenos. The recipe called for a can of diced tomatoes and sauce, but I had my bolognese on hand, so I added a tomato and a handful of cherry tomatoes, diced up finely and simmered for 20 minutes. Covered the roast with the chipped vegetables and tomato sauce in a dutch oven, covered it, and put it in the oven at 160 C (about 325 F) for two hours. While it was braising I made a pastry dough and went to get a massage.

Bambi had braved the row of seedy, sketchy looking massage places on our street and found a legit place that gives massages not hookers and discovered a membership card deal. For 80 yuan I got an 80 minute medicinal-soak foot massage and back rub. Oh the wonders. I fell asleep to almost excruciating tickle-pain-wonderfulness. It was most refreshing.

I got back and finished making apple pie galettes, because pies are mushy. The humidity and heat made the crusts unbearably challenging, but I managed, and stuck them in the fridge to bake later. The roast finished, I took it out and shredded it with two forks. It smelled divine. I had to taste a tiny little bite to make sure it was good enough for company…and I’m telling you…the only reason I did not consume an entire kilo of meat by myself at that moment was entirely due to sheer will power. I put back the veggies it had cooked in and some of the broth that had cooked off–which was delicious so I saved and froze it rather than throw it out and waste tastiness–and kept it warm in the oven while I went off to teach my class.

Allie and Dina met me at the English school and we flagged a cab home. Dinner was a great success. I had taken some of the little flags from the party on Saturday and put them all over. Warmed up tortillas, cut up two avocados with lime generously squeezed over it, and brought out the pasta salad as well as a pitcher of refrigerator tea that had been brewing all day with lemons. The galettes baked perfectly at 200 C for 35 minutes and Dina brought ice cream to serve with them and the macarons. Overall, a really great Fourth of July! I hope every one can surround themselves with good people and good food and hopefully an explosion or two.