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.


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