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.

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