I’ve been busy and tired and it’s really cold outside, again. Sawyer left already, so I feel safe in knowing he’s on his way to another continent and therefore will not be witness to my long underwear and furry lumberjack hat. So he won’t leave me in disgust for at least another month, when he gets back to this freezing windswept tundra. The winter’s only going to get worse. I’m shivering just remembering last January.

Tuesday, as I was riding the bus, my tutor student’s mom called me, and explained that they were somewhere not at their house but close by. She proceeded to give me directions. Keep in mind, this woman doesn’t speak a word of English. And I’m bad at directions even in my own native language. I struggled to translate, but more importantly, REMEMBER all the directions she gave me, got lost, knocked on two strangers’ doors in two different apartment complexes and wandered for a good twenty minutes before finding the right place.

After a tortuous hour involving a 3 year old with a cold–and having to hold a tissue to the nose of a child not even remotely related to me, thank you Purell, for existing–I found a cab and met Sawyer and some of his friends at Xiangmanlou, a duck restaurant northwest of Sanlitun, on Xinyuanxili. They brew their own beer, and I tried the black beer, which was dark, nutty and probably the best Chinese beer I’ve had. The duck was good, but the other dishes weren’t terribly remarkable aside from a spicy pumpkin-greens and green chilies dish. The duck soup was bland and didn’t include any of the duck in it. I’m going to stick with Jingzun Duck as my place of choice.

Wednesday night Sawyer cooked us dinner for his last night before his holiday visit home: a really good dish consisting of chicken breast, artichoke hearts, olives, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese, baked in wine. served over crunchy brown rice. we watched the Thing, which seemed particularly apt since it had been completely freezing that day.

Before he left for the airport, Sawyer dropped by my office and we went for a late lunch at Obento, which is rapidly becoming a favorite place for me even though I’ve only been there once before. Start off with a steamy, hearty, warming mug of miso soup while you wait for the arrival of your bento tray–Sawyer got beef sukiyaki and I ordered the chicken teriyaki. It was elegantly presented on a bamboo tray with several small white square bowls and dishes. A flat platter of sliced chicken, a scoop of fluffy wasabi mashed potatoes, steamed daikon, carrot and pumpkin, and sauteed green vegetable with two tamago rolls (sweet egg omelet) all accompanied by a bowl of seasoned mushroom rice. Noms. Then he left to finish last minute packing and I had to walk back to the office in cold so brutal I thought I was going to end. Like robot parts were just going to freeze solid and I wouldn’t be able to keep moving.

Cold makes me sluggish and cranky. I hate getting out of bed in the morning, the moment I’m home from work I wear the warmest, frumpiest brown sweater, wrap myself in a blanket, and read books or look at things online until I fall asleep.

I’ll be home in a week. It’s hard to believe I’ll be gone just a week shy of an entire year. Even when I lived in Taiwan for a year, I went home after the first month, then 3 months later, and my sister came out to visit me as well. But when I get home right on Christmas Eve (my plane lands at 8:00 pm, jut in time for our usual Christmas Eve extended family dinner to be wrapping up), I’ll have gone 360 days without seeing a single family member. So I’m a bit excited to get back. I fondly reminisce about clean, New England air, running outside, quiet-empty!-wide peaceful streets, heck, maybe I’ll even drive my truck!, fresh baked bread from the bakery around the corner, an abundance of bagels, deli meat, and uncontaminated seafood. My favorite Italian grocer. Cheese. Cheese for days. Cheese and pate and charcuterie with all the ridiculously good bread I’m going to consume. Seedless grapes. Cranberry juice. Apple cider. Fusion food. Mexican food. Hot wings. Steak. I’ve a whole list of restaurants to visit and I’ve sent that list, along with a list of things I’d like to have in the fridge, to my mother. And of course, I miss my family and all that too. Yeah. The people. I miss all those people. And my SHOES. A giant bin of shoes that I wrongly decided not to bring with me. They’re coming to China this time. And CVS. Oddly enough, I miss pharmacies that actually sell things like Bandaids and ibuprofen instead of freckle-bleaching cream (yeah, I’m looking at you, Watson’s). I’ll sadly go over the several plastic bins in my room at home containing my cookware, and sigh that I can’t take my 14-piece All-Clad set, and think how silly it would be to take a kitchen blowtorch, immersion blender, or set of Santoukou knives back with me. Silly. Absolutely silly. Right?

But that’s still 6 days away. I have more important things to worry about, like walking home in the frigid cold (it’s so windy that even from the very middle of our large, 50 person office with loud conversations in multiple languages, I can HEAR the wind howling by a far off corner window). Yesterday I came out of the cold absolutely frigid, and threw together a scratch meal, ground beef with panko crumbs, an egg, salt and pepper and finely diced onion rolled to make little meatballs, baked at 350 degrees then warmed through in a hastily made sauce of caramelized onion, grated carrot, minced celery, garlic, and a can of whole stewed tomatoes with a generous splash of red wine and chicken stock. Served over pasta, with a side of butter tossed baby radishes.

Today I had a little more time on my hands. I decided to make spaetzle, after perusing some interesting recipes online. It seemed super simple, the only ingredients needed were
2 cups flour
1/4 cup milk
7 eggs
some salt and a dash of ground cinnamon.

Spaetzle Dough

I mixed all this together to form a sticky, loose batter, then refrigerated it for an hour. In the mean time, I roasted olive oil tossed potato, carrot and Brussels sprouts, and pulled out three chicken legs from a brine they were thawing in. I planned to saute them based on a Julia Child recipe.

Sauteed Chicken Ingredients
3 legs of chicken, brined, then patted dry
2 Tbs butter, olive oil
1 shallot, minced
Garlic, minced
Basil (fresh), shredded
Salt and Pepper
Wine and Chicken Stock

Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper, Butter, Wine, Stock, Chicken, Shallot, Garlic, Basil

First, I melted half the butter with a little bit of olive oil in a wok (I miss my cast iron). Browned each leg for 2-3 minutes per side, then removed them to a baking dish, where I seasoned them with salt and pepper. Turned the heat to low, then I tossed in garlic and basil into the pan with a tad more oil and butter, put the chicken back in, and covered the wok for 25 minutes, turning them over halfway. I was a little bit afraid they weren’t cooked through, so I removed the legs to the baking dish and popped them in the oven at 350F for the next 25 minutes while I worked on the sauce. I removed all the burnt bits from the pan, and with the heat till on low, added the minced shallots. Let those soften, then deglazed the pan with white wine, followed by chicken stock. I let this reduce down by about half, and then poured it over the chicken.

Browned Chicken Legs, with Basil and Garlic Thrown In

Warmed through in the oven with shallot and white wine reduction poured over

Then I had to get Bambi in the kitchen to help. Spaetzle without a spaetzle press is difficult (I didn’t even know those existed) or at least much messier than it needs to be. I pulled the batter out of the fridge and prepped an ice bath, while a big pot of salted water started to boil. The directions I found said to use a large-holed colander. We tried that first, but the colander had long slits instead of holes, and the very sticky dough was not pushing through very well, the noodles were thin and small. Then I poked a few holes in a ziplock bag and we tried to use it like a pastry bag. It worked alright, extruding long cylindrical noodles, until we pushed too hard and the bag burst and I caught two handfuls of batter and just barely prevented one massive spaetzle blob. Then inspiration hit when I saw the steaming tray from my rice cooker, with 1/4 inch holes evenly spaced apart and a flat bottom. It worked great (although careful with this step, holding something over a steamy boiling pot is hot). Each batch was boiled about 2-3 minutes before removed with a slotted spoon and deposited in the ice bath. Once finished, I drained the noodles, and then tossed them with a little bit of butter and olive oil, basil, and salt and pepper.

Trying to push batter into the pot

Spaetzle, Chicken and Roast Vegetables


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