A Wedding in Sanya

One of Sawyer’s close friends got married this past weekend in Sanya, Hainan, which is often billed as the Hawaii of China. I was fortunate enough to be included in this very intimate celebration (there were maybe only 30 of us altogether, the bride’s side, the groom’s side, and us, the only two native English speakers).

We flew down Saturday morning, waking up at 6:00 to get ready. Luckily, Sawyer remembered to check if we both had our passports–for some stupid brain-glitch of a reason, I had forgotten mine. We took a cab to my apartment where I dashed across the street, climbed the (dirty, rusty, gross) fence (wearing white jeans) flew up all six flights of stairs, grabbed my passport, tumbled back down the stairs, over the fence again, and back to the cab where I collapsed for the rest of the ride to the airport. Way to go, Robot.

We got there in plenty of time despite my detour. Unfortunately, our plane was a long winding bus ride away from the actual gate. There was the requisite pushing and shoving and waiting to get on the plane. We were literally the very last people on the plane, unfortunately, since it was freezing and windy! I shivered and made misery faces until I could get out of the wind and into our seats, where I promptly went back to sleep as the plane started to roll into taxi position. A little over an hour later, I woke up. The plane wasn’t moving, we had never taken off. Eventually, we departed. It’s a four hour flight from Beijing to Sanya. The groom had arranged for the hotel to pick us up, and we rode for another hour with the German side of the wedding party in a beat up old van with a wheezy engine. It was a relief to get out at the resort.

I have to say, not that I frequent vacation resorts all that often, but the Marriott seems to know whats going on. At check in we were greeted with cold, lychee fragrant washcloths for our hands and faces, and icy cups of sweet tea. The room was great–a beautiful view of greenery and the beach below, a big comfy bed with fort’s worth of pillows. We wasted no time getting down to the beach for a quick swim and rest in the dying (but still warm) sun, before working out and hitting the sauna.

And then dinner. We wandered around the different restaurants–but really, was there any other choice than the beach-side barbecue buffet? Let me just say that I am a huge fan of sitting at a fancily set table complete with table cloth and chilled bottle of white wine, under the stars, with the waves lapping the shore just feet away, being able to bury my bare feet in cool sand. And of course, stuffing my face full of food. We’re just going to write off this entire week as filthy-fat-American week. They had steamed crabs, giant crab legs, mussels, shrimp, periwinkles, grilled scallops, grilled squid, grilled lamb, pork and chicken, chicken and beef skewers, garlic and chili grilled shrimp, and more. Buttery roast fingerling potatoes were the closest thing I got to a vegetable. Poor Sawyer had to witness me go up for four full plates and see my Asian shellfish-picking genes comes out. I nibbled on some fruit and tiny portions of cake for dessert as the groom and his mother joined us for a second bottle of wine.

We joined the rest of the groom’s side of the wedding party (all the Germans stayed in the same hotel, the Chinese side decided to stay in a more ‘Chinese’ hotel) at the lobby bar for a drink. I got through half of my overly sweetened mojito before the food coma started to kick in.

Sunday morning we got up early enough to get a work out in the gym before breakfast (and a good thing too, considering all the good meals this week). Marriott breakfast buffets are always very good, and this was no exception. Without going into detail, lets be content to say I ate a hearty and varied enough breakfast meal that even the Germans commented. After breakfast I was content to sit at the beach, read one of the books that Sawyer got me for my birthday, swim a little and sun. I reapplied sunblock three times and even sat with the shade up for an hour or so, but still, still I managed to get the weirdest, patchy painful red burns. Luckily, with the magic of makeup, I was able to erase the sillier tan lines.

The week before I tried to go shopping for a nice dress to wear to a wedding on a tropical island. Unfortunately, anything nice was super expensive, and anything affordable was trashy, covered in sequins and terrible. So last minute, last Sunday, I ran to Amanda Tailor with several pictures of suitable dresses. A few would have been impossible to make, and we selected the one she said she could definitely make by Friday. The only problem was that she didn’t have the same sort of stretchy material, only a stiffer one she uses for business dresses, but as long as I could breathe in it I would be happy. She did an amazing job!

The wedding itself was beautiful. A small ceremony in the ocean-side chapel, ceremony in Chinese and German, incorporating a handful of adorable children with flower petals, a tea ceremony, cake cutting and champagne waterfall. One of the children was a bit of a troublemaker, as he whined and fussed and actually started having a temper tantrum during the vows about not being allowed up on the altar, and he tried to drink the champagne. Afterwards we mingled with some of the other guests while the poor groom was subjected to Chinese sense of art and fashion and forced into silly poses including heart shaped balloons of the beach, and bending over awkwardly as some guy on a ladder threw rose petals at them for their wedding album

Then came dinner. It was really something (made me glad I skipped out on lunch, snacking on some fruit the hotel gave us in the room instead). Another beach side buffet, under a lane of lit up trees complete with violinist to serenade us. The meal started out with a generously laden seafood platter of shrimp, periwinkles, mussels, crab, and Maine Lobster tails. Sweet, sweet bliss. There was also a seafood bisque, a surprisingly spicy shrimp and avocado gazpacho, an amazing grilled teriyaki marinated chicken thigh, grilled lamb, grilled king prawns, fish skewers and more. And dessert, although I stuck to just a bite or two of wedding cake and pineapple cut into flower petals.

Then of course, the drinking started, several rounds of people going around and ganbei’ing, some celebratory cigars were smoked, and a merry and lovely evening had by all. The little troublemaker was all hyped up on candy. His doting grandmother actually gave him some sips of wine and champagne, I can only assume she was trying to knock the little brat out, but I’m pretty sure it just helped his raging partying.

I spent a lazy morning icing my burns and reading until it was time to leave, sitting on the deck listening to the melodic drumming of rain hit the greenery below. They arranged a driver to take us to the airport. By the time we got to the airport it was torrential. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed several hours, and Sanya airport has the most uncomfortable chairs I’ve ever had to spend time in at an airport.

Robot’s Birthday Dinners

After work some of the younger crowd went to Happy Hour for a drink to relax after a particularly busy week. Centro, in the Kerry Center, has some particularly good martinis. I ordered a very dirty gin martini. It was good, but they were stingy with their olives–one large one. I don’t want one big gourmet olive. I want several little olives that I can use to break up the taste of gin. We asked the waitress to bring more for everyone. She begrudgingly brought six, complaining that they were very expensive, and she only brought those out because our PR guy has some weird black magic (seriously, we asked for a table, they say it’s all reserved. He pulls her aside, we get seated immediately).

So this past Monday was my birthday. Since we headed to Sanya for the weekend to attend a wedding, and had plans with friends to go to dinner Monday, on Friday Sawyer took me out to dinner to Karaiyah Spice House. I met him after drinks at Centro, trying very hard to only nibble on a few of their addictive bar peanuts. We ordered far too much food.Started out with a chafing dish of assorted mushrooms and a plate of eggplant coated in a spicy red sauce, and a bowl of pork fried rice.

Mixed Mushrooms and Hot Peppers

Spicy Pork Fried Rice

Everything was spicy and delicious. Karaiyah is known apparently for their ribs, so we ordered a plate, only to discover that one order is huge. A giant platter of what my dad used to tell us baby-robots was Brontosaurus ribs. They definitely lived up to the hype, although I could only eat a few bites–so spicy and getting kind of full at this point. And then they brought me out a bowl of birthday noodles! No, really, I guess they’re similar to “long-life noodles” that you’re not supposed to cut. Sawyer mentioned it was my birthday and noodles appeared. At least they didn’t sing.

Brontosaurus-sized Platter of Ribs

Birthday Noodles

I had originally planned to celebrate Monday night with friends at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, but a series of events (the restaurant not being listed online, getting the wrong number from their sister chain in another neighborhood, our plane from Sanya being delayed) caused me to cancel, and instead just meet everyone for a dumpling party at crowd-favorite Baoyuan Jiaoziwu. We ordered something like 122 dumpling plus a few sides for the nine of us, and consumed every last bit. Of course, we got 5 orders of the purple crack dumplings, plus 6 other different types. Delicious.

In Which Robot Gets Called Out By a Cabbie

Let’s face it, cab drivers in Beijing are assholes. Everything is a fight–“no I don’t want to turn my car around to take you to your destination. No, I don’t want to deal with you, so I’m ‘closed’ even though my vacant light is on. No, I won’t take you to your destination until you pronounce it eight times like you have balls in your mouth. No, I won’t go the fast way I’ll sit in traffic, and by the way is it really allowed in the US for white and black people to marry? Why would anyone do that?” And so on. Also, many of them smell like poop and garlic. But sometimes you get nice drivers who compliment your Chinese and just want to have a nice conversation.

So I’m back teaching the chefs at the Kitchen English on Monday nights. Although I’m not really a fan of not getting home til 9:30 or looking at dinner until 10, it is nice to be back there regularly. Chairman is still really adorable and I really admire her for studying a new language when she has to be in her 80s.

It’s cold. Traffic sucks. We finish up with class and I hustle down Nanluoguxiang avoiding all the vendors trying to hawk their panda hats and green lasers. Taxis are few and far between. Two separate groups of people have stolen taxis from me, which is just a bitchy thing to do. China, your people are not civilized. Taxi manners: if someone is clearly waiting and trying to flag down a cab and has been doing so since before you got to that area, you do not stand in front of them, nor do you stand slightly behind them and then jump in when the cab stops, nor do you walk fifteen feet farther down the road to be first. It’s just rude.

I waited out in the cold for thirty minutes visibly seething and muttering angry things not quite so under my breathe, as a third group of Chinese people tried to edge in front of me. My mutterings got quite a bit louder. I edged forward. They edged forward. I glared at them judgmentally. A cab stopped in between us. One girl actually had her hand on the door handle and I shouldered past, opened the back seat, and may or may not have said, in English, “If you try to take this cab I will punch you in the face,” before promptly sitting down and shutting the door. Perhaps it was a little bitchy but damn it there IS A FUCKING ETIQUETTE TO FLAGGING DOWN CABS.

My cabbie commented that I could speak pretty good Chinese, based on my pronunciation of my destination. He turned around and was then surprised by the blondeness. This lead to a discussion about language, him telling me hello, goodbye and thank you in about 13 other languages, and him testing my reading ability on signs that we were passing. He did ask me if I had any brothers and how old my dad was, which was kind of weird. Then suddenly he was like “so when you got into my cab, what exactly did you say to that girl? You totally told her you were going to hit her. Why did you want to hit her?” So I had to explain why I was so upset with them. I finally got home at 10, where Sawyer had the lasagna I made all warmed up and waiting, along with a salad and a glass of wine (I knew I kept him around for a reason).

My poor neglected China family. Bambi has a nasty cold, Ginny has a flu, and to put it bluntly, Hector has had his balls chopped off and must endure the cone of shame. I went home to nurse them all. I made a chicken soup and macaroni and cheese.
I started by making a pot of vegetable stock.

Heat up olive oil and a little pat of butter in the bottom of a stockpot.
Once the butter has melted and is a bit frothy, toss in one onion, chopped, and several cloves crushed garlic. Sprinkle with salt, and let onions soften.
Add 2-3 ribs of celery, then 1 large carrot cut up, one potato cut up, and also a sweet potato (smallish). Other additions–turnips, parsnips, whatever is in your produce drawer that has started to wilt but isn’t rotting. Add a splash of soy sauce for flavor, and 7-8 cups of water, a little more salt, plenty of black pepper, bay leaves, and a dash of herbs. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Strain the limp, soggy vegetables out, taste and season accordingly, and finished!

Chicken soup: I had two chicken breasts that I cut into chunks and marinated for about an hour in a little water, cornstarch, salt, a few drops of Maggi seasoning and rice wine. This takes the Chinese method of “velveting” meat a step further. I sauteed the chicken quickly. Once just cooked through dumped it onto a plate and shredded with two forks. I softened minced onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt, then added diced sweet potato and potato. After a few minutes, added diced carrot and celery. Once the potato began to soften a little, I dumped the pan full of veggies into the pot of vegetable broth. Brought to a simmer, and once the potatoes were soft and forkable, I added the shredded chicken (after sneaking a few bites). I let that simmer until the macaroni and cheese I was baking was done.

Mac and Cheese: I signed up to make macaroni for one of four Thanksgiving dinners I’ve been invited to, despite my only experience being Kraft and Annie’s. My aunt has an amazing lobster mac’n’cheese recipe that she makes for holidays, but I have a feeling that finding canned (or fresh) lobster will be prohibitively expensive, so I searched online and ended up using Alton Brown’s very simple recipe as a reference. (I love Alton Brown. I miss the food network only because I haven’t been able to watch Good Eats in over a year. Yes, I’m a total nerd).

First, a 500g packet of elbow macaroni boiled to al dente, strained and set aside. I made Bambi shred 250g cheddar cheese (aged, sharp). Dice half an onion. I melted about 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, and then whisked in 2ish tablespoons of flour, careful not to let this burn or brown too much. Next went in 2 1/2 cups of skim milk, the onions, a generous dash of paprika, and a bay leaf. I let this simmer for ten minutes, stirring every so often. While this was simmering, I split the pasta between two glass baking dishes (if you have a big enough casserole to do so, just one will suffice). I had several slices of bacon fried and cut into little pieces, that I mixed into the pasta. Back to the sauce–removed the bay leaf. Then mixed in most of the cheese, letting it get all melty and gooey, seasoned with salt and pepper. Folded the sauce all up into the noodles, making sure it was spread evenly throughout, and covered with remaining cheese.You can melt some butter and toss panko crumbs in the butter at this point, but I just covered the noodles with plain panko crumbs and sprinkled on some Parmesan. Stuck them into the oven at 180C (350F) and baked for half an hour.

It turned out really well. The chicken soup was great, the boys loved it. The mac’n’cheese was good too. Next time I’m going to up the paprika, add way more bacon (4 slices is NOT enough), mix in another kind of cheese, and maybe throw in some vegetables.

A Week of Amazing Meals

This seems to be the week for out of town guests–the boys had their college roommates comes stay with us for 12 days, and my friend’s friend came back to Beijing for business. This, of course, meant entertaining them and a week of good Beijing restaurants. No time for cooking!

As well as bringing me some real superglue and one of those Tide stain removing pens, out-of-town friend brought me a giant tub of smooth Skippy Peanut Butter after reading a lament I had written about accidentally buying peanut butter with crispy rice. I took him and Scones to dinner at Taste. We ordered many delicious things, the jizong mushrooms again, lamb chops of course, banana leaf steamed beef, spiced and lightly fried goat cheese, cubed and mixed with peas. The place was full (not that hard with only 3-4 tables) and every table reserved for after, luckily I had thought ahead to make reservations. Several groups of laowai poked their heads in to inquire about seating, and I ended up translating for a few of the non-Chinese speakers, as the owner, who speaks pretty decent English, wasn’t there.

I was treated to dinner at the Kitchen (can I mention how much I love expense reports?). The menu was mostly the same as always–the pan fried dumplings, coriander and shitake salad, braised eggplant, braised pork belly, caramelized sweet potatoes, but there were a few new dishes–the beef with pine nuts stands out.

Friday: duck with everyone’s out of town guests together, at Jingzun Duck (where else would we go?). As I was walking there, I’m pretty sure I witnessed either an arrest or a kidnapping. Four plainclothes Chinese men strong-arming a struggling and swearing black guy into a van, three of them getting into the van and slamming the door shut behind them, and the other chasing after another guy running away. No one else seemed to be concerned. I was slightly concerned, but decided no good would come of me asking out loud “WTF?”

The duck was excellent, as per usual. Bambi ordered pretty much everything on the menu, including both duck soup and fried duck frame–for the typical Peking Duck, you get a very pretty platter of the better meat with the skin on. In order to not waste the rest of the absolutely delicious meat, they make an amazing duck soup. Or batter and deep fry it. Excuse me while I have a fat-panda-crisis. Even with twelve of us, we couldn’t finish the plates, so when everyone else had departed, Allie and I sat for a little and packed everything up to go, much to the annoyance of our waiter. I walked home slowly and got a side stitch from being too fat and full.

On Saturday we took our guests to yangtui (lamb leg). Three months is just about the right amount of time between visits, because you forget how dirty the table is, you’ve forgotten how much meat you consumed in one sitting, you forget the details besides how good the food is. It was a delicious and messy, smoky night with lots of beer and the eleven of us devoured 3 legs, hacking away with our steely, stabbity long knives, as well as many vegetable dishes, chuanr, and chicken leg skewers. We were asked to keep it down because we were “disturbing the hutong.” But not thirty seconds later some asshat came tearing down the street, honking his horn and yelling, not two inches away from me. Yeah, we’re the disturbance. Fuck you china. I came prepared with tissues and wet wipes for afterwards. We stopped back at the apartment to change into going out clothes that didn’t smell of lamb smoke, and ran into our neighbor and insisted she come out with us. We were headed to Spark, until we learned it was a 200 kuai cover charge. Really Spark? Ridiculous? We went to GT Banana instead. Bad dancers, creepy old men that Bambi befriended for free drinks, lots of dancing and confetti falling from the ceiling, actually really fun.

Scones and I had gone to Sanyuanli on Saturday and brought back quite a haul. Sunday afternoon, I made stock, and a big pot of pasta sauce. Scones came over in the evening and made a vegetable gumbo and some delicious soy sauce marinated pan seared steak. The gumbo was a little on the burned side but otherwise tasty. After dinner I put together a lasagna for the next day: watered down some sauce with veg stock to make it soupy. Lay down three sheets of pasta. Sauce. Layers of shaved carrot, zucchini and mushroom, cheese. Repeat. Cover in sauce and cheese. Bake for 40 minutes. Store in fridge overnight, it tastes better the next day.

CaoChang Di Village: A Trip to the “New” 798

The boys have guests. I’ve been staying at Sawyer’s so that I don’t have to live with five boys. in one small apartment. I’ve been mostly busy and trekking back and forth between apartments for things I’d forgotten to bring with me, but one night Allie and I made green curry duck and green peppers and tofu with ground beef and carrots stir fry, drank wine, and watched several episodes of Mad Men.

Green Curry Duck: Slice duck breasts into strips, and chop peppers on a bias. Mince garlic, ginger and slice half an onion. Heat some oil in a wok, soften the onion with garlic and ginger, then throw in the duck. Add in green curry paste and a cup of coconut milk. Add in peppers and let simmer.

A slightly better teaching experience than the first class, but the obnoxious six year old stole all the snacks we had planned for part of the lesson (learning about eating healthy), eating all the candy before class started and stealing from other kids’ plates. Is it weak of me that I want to crack him across his spoiled rotten little face? Not only that, but one of the four year old boys had a temper tantrum halfway through the class, and actually bit my assistant! She had a big bloody bruise after class, and asked me worriedly if she needed some kind of shot.

Homemade Sausage with a Poached Egg, Sweet Potato Rosti and Homemade Apple Sauce

Sawyer had some guests in town and we went to Nola for brunch. Eggs Sartou and Housemade sausages again, of course. I was too hungry to remember to take a picture of the Sartou, but remembered to get one of homemade sausage with sweet potato rosti, poached egg and apple sauce. They had a menu that said specialty hot drinks: hot chocolate and hot apple cider. I’m kind of a little kid and I love cider, so of course I ordered it.
The steamy glass mug that emerged was a little bit clearer and looked more like apple juice than cider, plus had a slice of lemon in it. Nevertheless, I took a big sip.
Only to discover that it was not cider.

Definitely NOT Apple Cider

Well, not precisely cider. It was reminiscent of cider, with a rather liberal pour of rum in it.

We took a taxi to Caochangdi, this new artsy neighborhood that’s apparently going to be the next 798, or was what 798 was ten years ago before anyone got famous. I can’t tell you how we got there, because I fell asleep minutes after giving the cab driver directions and didn’t wake up until we arrived, but it’s somewhere a north and east of 798, I believe.

We wandered around, poked in some locked doors, nearly entered someone’s house mistaking it for a gallery until a dog barked at us, wandered in this little town completely lost. M The streets were barely paved-mostly mud and stone. We were definitely it the right place, there was a big sign for an artist village, there was clay everywhere, and kilns. But we couldn’t find anything vaguely gallery-like or tourist friendly. We almost gave up until we stumbled upon some new looking brick buildings, completely hidden and random to get to, a little enclave of galleries. It smelled like fall–yellow leaves drifting down to swept up piles in the gutter, the sweet buttery smell of leaf mold and rot, a bit of chill in the air. The galleries have some interesting paintings, others are dull and filled with that faux-deep artsy bullshit. One artist required you to walk through a mirror tunnel lined with creepy painted mannikins, only two of them weren’t mannikins, they were painted live people standing still looking at you with their creepy eyes. Screw you, creepy doll man, your art is pretentious and silly and just plain bad. In that same exhibit we walked outside to see this:

I'm not sure if it's Art, or just lunch. Also, I have no idea what animal he's cooking.

We met up with some more people for dinner on Guijie (Ghost Street), also known as the red lantern street Guloujie, between Beixingqiao and Dongzhimen. We went to a Taiwanese hotpot place and ordered a large amount of food to cook in mushroom broth and spicy broth (and oh my was that hot broth spicy. Searing. Numbing). Copious amounts of food covered liberally with peanut and sesame oil sauce were consumed. Eventually, sated, we left, and had a few drinks at the James Joyce, a cute little bar on Xindgong Lu. The natural wood exterior is attractive, the interior is clear, clean and well lit, and the staff was nice enough to let us take over the music. They even have a fireplace (although they need to work on the ventilation, coming home smelling like campfire is a bit gross).

Birthday Dinner

Ginny’s birthday was on a Monday that I don’t want to admit to how many weeks ago because I am bad at keeping this thing updated. I spent some time at work drawing an adorable card covered with drinking robots. After teaching, I flagged down a cab and hurried to the restaurant to meet them. Bambi and Ginny arranged with the owners of Taste to rent out the whole place (not a difficult feat, there is really only space for 12 people at a time).

Bambi arranged a set menu with the chef and we brought several bottles of wine with us.
The first dish was lightly fried blocks of tofu with a shockingly mala dipping sauce (numbing and spicy).

My second favorite dish of the night was second, small round lotus root and potato cakes, served, with all things, ketchup. The presentation was lovely.

A spicy lightly marinated eggplant salad came next, along with a spicy beef and vegetable dish.
Everyone got a big bowl of lamb and mint soup. The broth was good, although after it cooled, you could see the thick scum of congealed fat on top. The lamb was fall-apart tender, and dipped in a savory coriander-soy sauce.

My absolute favorite dish was a Yunnan specialty. It’s only available a few months of the year when the mushrooms are in season. These special mushroom are sauteed with wild hot green peppers. Little to no oil is used in cooking, the mushrooms themselves exude an natural oil that tastes exactly like butter. Heaven.

Jizong Mushrooms, Only Available 3 Months a Year in Yunnan

Beef and vegetables cooked in a banana leaf came out next. The sauce was excellent on rice.

Beef and Onions Steamed in a Banana Leaf

Lastly they brought out platters of fresh broccoli, radishes, cucumbers and green beans to dip in a sweet-spicy sauce. They also brought Ginny a glass full of their special bumblebee liquor, with an actual bee floating around in it. After passing it around the table to smell or sip, Ginny downed the bee.

Taste is my new favorite restaurant in China and I really hope they stick around for a while. Somehow it got to be renowned on TripAdvisor and rated #1. While I don’t contest that claim at all, it does make it annoying when you have to call and make reservations at your little tiny hole in the hutong restaurant any night of the week because it’s filled with laowai who’ve made reservations through their hotels.

Winter is Coming

Long, long week. Winter is sneaking its way into Beijing, the temperature is dropping and the air is getting dry and cold. I’ve been making wintery recipes these week, partly because I’ve been sick, partly because the weather and partly because winter food is so comforting and hearty.

My boss came around my desk at 4:30 and “commanded” me to drink a beer with some of the Chair members. Oh nervewracking. I suited up with a stack of business cards in my pocket and a big grin, but declined on the glass of wine (somehow I don’t think recovery from food poison goes very well with alcohol). However, in my avoidance of the awkward moment when the one person you were talking to walks away to talk to someone else and everyone else is mid conversation and there are no openings for you to politely insert yourself and therefore you stand around painfully hoping someone will save you from standing by yourself, I helped myself to about 4 cups of very bad coffee, which I then drank to fill the awkward silence when you’ve both said all the small talk things you can think of and don’t really want to keep going but everyone else is mid coversation so neither of you can walk away. By the time I got home I was shaking out of my skin jittery.

My mom emailed me some of her recipes, including one for a roasted tomato basil soup. Just what I was in the mood for. A quick stop to Jenny Lou after work to pick up the ingredients, and I hopped into a rickshaw. My mom usually makes a giant stockpot of this soup and freezes half of it, packing it in tupperware for my sisters and me. Since there’s limited freezer space and Sawyer’s out of town for a few days, I only made a third.

It’s pretty simple, and other than the time it takes to let the tomatoes roast in the oven (40 minutes) and simmer for flavor (45 minutes) quick.
3 lbs plum tomatoes, halved. (i used about one pound). 28 z can of whole tomatoes, with juice (I got a 14 oz can). several cloves of garlic, minced. fresh ground black pepper, kosher salt, 2 cups onion, chopped (i used one medium-small onion), pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (or a few liberal shakes of red chili powder), 3 cups of fresh basil, torn (one cup, in my case), dash of thyme, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 quart (or one can) of chicken stock (1 1/4 cup homemade, if you’ve got any kicking around)
I cut my tomatoes into chunks, tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil, then roasted at 200C (400F) for 40 minutes. While they were roasting, I chopped the onion, minced the garlic, rinsed and tore up the basil, sliced some crusty bread, and cut fresh mozzarella cheese into small pieces. Then we snacked on some of the bread spread with feta and olives because we were hungry. Then I softened the onions in a stockpot with olive oil, and tossed in the garlic. This is where you’d add the red pepper flakes if you had any (Sawyer’s pantry is poorly stocked, unfortunately). Added the whole canned tomatoes and the stock. By this time the fresh tomatoes were done roasting so I took them out of the oven and popped them into the pot, along with the juices that cooked out. Brought that to a boil, added the basil, thyme, and some red chili powder that Sawyer had kicking around. Let simmer for 45 minutes. An immersion blender would come in super handy at this point, and wow do I miss my kitchen appliances sitting in a box in my parent’s attic, I had to settle for carefully ladling all the hot soup into a blender, blending, and pouring back into the pot. Taste and season to preference–a few more dashes of salt and pepper for me here. Serve immediately, or keep in the pot on low heat until you can dish it out. This is best when you toss in a generous handful of mozzarella chunks right away so it gets all melty and delicious with pieces of crusty bread (although I also imagine it would be great with some grilled cheese sandwiches).

AH, my friend and new neighbor and I had a late dinner Wednesday night, ordering spinach pesto and smoked mushroom and pork pizza from Gung Ho, and Thursday, Scones came over after work. I picked up a sad little chicken from Jenny Lou’s (the only one they had) and gave it a quick brine while I cleaned up the kitchen. We roasted it with lemon and garlic and butter under the skin, stuffed with veggies, and basted in olive oil. We made it into chicken soup with pasta, and ate the meat with some of my homemade chili sauce while having a Madmen marathon.

I got my hair done again. It took 4 hours and the salon played Backstreet Boys on repeat the entire time. I got home after ten, and the boys complimented and made fun of my very blonde hair, we ordered Xinjiang and had a family night playing drinking games and watching Tangled.

Saturday. My first actual kindergarten class (the past month has just been demo classes to sign up students). It went horribly. The curriculum was to teach the kids the classroom rules. Since that’s a boring subject and there aren’t a lot of good activities besides storytelling, the kids were hyperactive and bored and crying and shy and knocking chairs over and running around. I don’t know how teachers who have more than 4 kids do it. I was at my wits end. One student is 3 1/2, three are 4 years old, and one student is 6. I don’t know why he’s in the class, because he’s 6 and he clearly speaks English. He kept insisting he be first at getting to do stuff and being a little poop and hurting the littler kids’ feelings.

Then the school had a Halloween party, so I was instructed to scrap the second part of the lesson, Colors, and join the Halloween activities. That was fine, getting the kids to listen to a pumpkin story, draw faces on orange balloons and paint ghost leaves. But there were about 25 people (kids and parents) crammed into this tiny room, no space to maneuver, kids running wild, and because they had a pumpkin carved, there were lit candles all over the place! I was trying to keep kids from touching fire/setting the room ablaze, keep my 3 1/2 year old occupied and in general helping out. The 6 year old started a fight with some of the plastic weapons the other teachers had for part of their play, and in trying to stop it, some dad slipped and fell and kicked me in the side. Rough day. I still hurt.

Sawyer came back home from his business trip and we went to Yashow to get our costumes. Yashow makes me upset and cranky. Just walking through the doors makes my happiness level plummet and I get all hunched shoulders and squinty, glaring at people who yell at me.

The house party we went to had lots of great costumes (notable: the 99 and 1 %s, the civilize Chaoyang girls, a chuanr man), and Halloween was a good time, although unfortunately missed out on the line 2 train party, which sounded like a crazy mess of drunk laowai taking over the Beijing train system. Bambi and Ginny went as Captain Hook and Peter Pan and had sword fights all over the place, which I’m sad to have missed.

Vampire Bill and Sookie Stackhouse. DONT JUDGE ME.

A nice easy Sunday, we went back to Nola for brunch again, sharing a pepper, mushroom and feta omelet and the homemade sausage with poached eggs and sweet potato rosti. I went off to tutor and sent Sawyer to Sanyuanli market to pick up supplies for a big dinner.

He brought back a huge haul. I’m not sure how he got everything back on that rickety little moped. I made braised oxtail stew. I wasn’t sure how much to tell him to get, so he bought TWO tails all chopped up. I left out all the pieces that were just bone and not worth cooking, put the rest in a big bowl with salt, pepper and wine to marinate while we washed, peeled and chopped five portabella mushroom, three large carrots, two tomatoes, two sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, baby potatoes and two onions and garlic.

I think Sawyer bought an entire stall's worth of produce

Drained the oxtail pieces of wine, then lightly coated them with salt and peppered flour. Browned in olive oil, then set aside. Softened the two minced onions and several minced cloves of garlic. We had so much that I had to split it and use a big pot and a wok. Put the oxtails back in the pots with the onion and garlic. Added in the chopped up tomatoes. I used the chicken stock I made earlier in the week, although this works better with beef stock. Added in a liberal amount of red wine and water until the oxtails were completely covered. Covered them on low heat to allow them to simmer for 2 1/2 hours. I went to teach my last lesson and gave Sawyer instructions to add in the chunks of sweet potato, carrot, and baby potatoes half an hour before I got back.

Upon my return, I sauteed the Brussels sprouts and mushroom in a little bit of olive oil and butter, then put them into the stew and let it cook for about 15 more minutes. Served it with warm toasty bread and cheddar cheese.

Braised Oxtail

In honor of Ginny’s birthday I made brownies. Well, attempted to make brownies. Which is weird, because if there’s one thing I’ve been able to make since I was 8 years old, it’s box mix brownies. I make them better by adding in broken up chocolate bars and skor toffee bits. But for some reason, this batch didn’t set right–it was in the oven for over an hour, and when I served it, it was just goop. Depressing.

Previous Older Entries