Guo An

Yesterday I did something new, I went to watch a soccer match!

Some friends decided to organize a little group of people to go. While not really interested in watching sports, going to a Guo An game once in your Beijing tenure is pretty recommended for the cultural experience. It turned into quite a large group, in fact, 16 of us to be exact, all though of course no one actually knew how many people would show up because no one ever RSVPs anymore like real adults.

We started the evening with a happy hour at Big Smoke, a restaurant that I had heard a lot about but never been too, on Xingfucun Zhong Road. They just recently opened a brewery in the restaurant, Jing A. I’d been told good things about their IPA, but they only had one glass left of it, and gave it to a regular customer (sitting next to me, he let me try a sip, it was pretty good). Unfortunately, the one beer that was available on tap that evening, the Cascade Amber, wasn’t great. Also, it was 35RMB (happy hour discount included!) for a very, very small glass of it.

The food was decent but again, overpriced for small portions. We ordered grilled mushrooms, homemade chorizo, empanadas, and salt and pepper squid with chipotle mayo to share. There wasn’t anything negative about the experience, but I’m not sure I’ll go again. There are better, cheaper places to eat and drink here.

From there, we somehow made our way as a group over to Gongti (the stadium). I know, objectively, that getting a large group of people to move efficiently is difficult, but with frisbee people it just feels like herding cats. But eventually, we made it. We pooled our money (decided the very highest we’d pay was RMB 100) and then gave it all to the two native Chinese girls in the group to approach the scalpers. Preliminary research (askin another probably-clueless laowai) informs me that scalpers are pretty much the only way to buy tickets, that there used to be a website and a phone number you could call, but its devolved into scalpers buying all the tickets and thats how everyone except like, season ticket holders and skybox important people get their seats.

None of the scalpers had enough tickets for all of us, but the girls managed to get them for RMB 60/each. After some rearranging of bags and whatnot, we advanced through security.

So here’s where it starts to get silly. So, I was the first person to arrive in the vicinity of the restaurant, and not knowing how many people were showing up, decided I’d kill some time and make a quick run to April Gourmet before the game for some stuff I needed at home (namely, a couple water bottles because Watson’s ordering system is stupid). So I had a couple bottles of water and a can of soda to bring home for later, along with all my stuff from work, and Ginny, fearing a pat-down at security, last minute stuck a flask of whiskey in my bag.

So we put our bags through the x-ray machine, everyone goes through the metal detector (which didn’t detect shit, I had my phone in my pocket). In the confusion of 16 laowai descending on two security stations, maybe 1/3 of the people got a light pat down? Then they stopped my bag, and pulled out the water bottles, soda, and flask. Apparently, even though I was told I could totally bring in drinks just not liquor, they weren’t going to let me bring in the unopened water or soda. Then the security guard waved the flask at me.

Security Guard: “What’s in here?”
Robot: “Um…Water?”
Security Guard: “Prove it.”
Robot :”Excuse me? What?”
Chinese friend, in English: “She wants you to prove that it’s water. Take a sip.”
Robot: “Um, okaaaay.” **stone cold no-facial reaction healthy swig of whiskey**
Security Guard: “Ok, you can take that in, but I’m keeping these bottles and the soda.”

What the what! How did that even..I don’t even…What?! Keep on keeping on, my Chinese security friends, you just make our world a better/safer/more weird place….

Honestly, I bet she just wanted my delicious Cherry Dr. Pepper and ice-cold water without having to leave her post and buy a drink. Hmph.

So since we had to get our tickets from several different scalpers, we were seated in three different sections. The first security guard first gave us conflicting directions about where to go, and then he refused to let us enter all in one group. So we walked down to the next entrance. The next security guard was much nicer. She put up one small protest that I was entering the wrong section (after BG told her he was going in the wrong entrance but would walk around) but we all sort of pleaded, spoke in Chinese and told her we were together as a group. She was tickled that we spoke Chinese and let us all through. Then we walked around trying to find a section where we could all sit together. It took us a while, and eventually, we had to walk all the way up to the top row, walk three sections over, then descend 15 rows. But, there were no stairs, we had to climb over empty seats and at one point, walk down a railing incline. The slanted concrete was already pretty steep, but since I came straight from work, I was wearing heels, which made it twice as bad. I had to cling to the railing and shuffle down precariously before landing in a safely horizontal empty seat. And then climb over three more rows of chairs.

But after this adventure (which literally KILLED my hamstrings, I could barely stand, or move from standing to sitting, without immense pain), we situated ourselves, started drinking, and got into the spirit of things.

I don’t remember much of my time from playing soccer in elementary school, mostly because I was always the tiniest person on the team, and many times my coaches would just tell me if anyone got near enough to touch me, pretty much it would knock me over so I should fall on the ball and get a penalty kick. I don’t even remember how many people are supposed to be on the field. And everyone tells me soccer is incredibly boring to watch. But I was amazed at how many people were filling the stadium on a Wednesday night against some inconsequential team from Shandong. Only 2 sections were empty, the rest were packed! There were throngs of people with flags, everyone wearing green (one tiny section was filled with orange-red shirts, the opposing team colors), there were literally drums going on to lead two sections in synchronized cheering and chanting and jumping. One entire section, all dressed in black and green, literally jumped up and down and chanted the entire 90 minutes, lef by three very enthusiastic flag wavers. It was crazy. The guys obviously got into the spirit of cranky drunk old Chinese men by taking their shirts off to wave around, shouting obscenities in Chinese, and in general, being fools, but the people around us loved it. The crowd even managed to generate a wave that went the entire way around the stadium twice. I was impressed.

One thing I noticed that I’m pretty sure isn’t standard (although I could be completely wrong) is that the entire field was surrounded by military policy security. They sat in pairs: One guard seated facing the field, one guard directly next to him facing the audience. I wonder if they flip a coin to see who faces what direction, and if they switch halfway through or something. But they sit there, completely immobile, the entire time. I assume they are there to prevent soccer riots, which are a thing that I’ve heard of happening in places that are not the US.

At one point I thought the security guards would have to do something. During a very close save, the goalie got kicked by the other team in what looked like the face/head. He was down for quite some time before shaking it off like a pro. But the crowd was not having it, they were jeering Shandong pretty murderously, and then, quite a few people tried to hurl their drinks at the players. Most was caught by nets strung up around the field, but a few full cups actually made it onto the field.

To be left there for the rest of the game. Like, seriously? The ref, who really wasn’t doing much of anything, couldn’t have gone over and kicked the three or four cups to the side? None of the players cared? It just seems like that sort of thing would a) not be allowed and b) be cleaned up right away.

But anyway, the Beijing team ended up winning 3-0, which I am told is rare because Guo An mostly loses. We made our way out (far less exciting than our way in) and I repeated something that three years ago, I swore I would never do again. My bike was locked up pretty far away so BG, who had his bike right outside the entrance, offered to bike me there. Wearing heels, my muscles crazy sore, it seemed like an excellent idea. And about thirty seconds later I remember it was a terrible idea. First, you have no control, no balance. Secondly, pretty sure I was sitting the wrong way, because I was trying to position myself to hold on. And lastly, there’s no where to rest your feet, you have to hold your legs off the ground with sheer muscle power.

Really this time I mean it, no more riding as a passenger on bikes.

Sweet and Sour Citrus Shrimp

So Dragonboat Festival came and went, and although I wasn’t able to motivate anyone to travel with me anywhere, I had a pretty good 5 day weekend. Made it hard to get back into the swing of things at the office. I really meant to make my time off productive, had all these food things I was going to try, Chinese news articles to translate, etc. I did none of these things. Friday night, Bambi inadvertently poisoned me with a drink from a bottle of Ukrainian vodka mysteriously labeled in Ukrainian and a giant red chili pepper the first night. One of the worst things I have ever experienced. Saturday we ricocheted around Sanlitun, first for the happy hour and delicious snacks at Flamme (highly recommend their fried egg and chorizo or pumpkin risotto sides), dinner at Bite-a-Pita (can you go wrong with hummus and falafel?), and then somehow got incepted into staying out for fancy whiskey at Fu Bar (after stating my intentions to walk a new kid there to keep him from getting lost, and then my intentions only to stay until the other guys came out so he wouldn’t have to drink by himself) and then my intentions to leave after finishing my ginger ale (but then fancy whiskey was bought for me and who turns that down?).

Sunday was a glorious Ladies Night, everyone wearing killer dresses, starting with cocktails at Union (their Harvest Punch is actually quite tasty and full of fruit, so technically it’s sort of good for you), and then dinner at the new Sanlitun SOHO location of Pinotage.

Pinotage was great. I highly recommend it. It was a bit too pricey for me to go there on any sort of regular basis, but the food was amazing. The portions could have stood to be a bit larger, as the “Share” portion which is supposed to feed 3-4 people could more realistically be satisfactorily shared between 2 people (with another appetizer and dessert of course).

We started with “Enjoy” portions of goat cheese and beet ravioli, thin discs of red beet sandwiching a dollop of goat cheese topped with pine nuts and micro-greens, and lamb shank dumplings. Blissful. The dumplings skins were thick, chewy and just a bit crispy on the outside, and the lamb shank was tender and perfectly spiced. Then we shared a dish of butternut squash risotto, venison wellington, and a side of pumpkin fritters. The venison, while possibly my least favorite of everything we tasted only because it was the hardest to share, was still amazing. Everything was fabulous. We went through two bottles of South African red wine, and then ordered dessert. It was small but everyone was able to have a bite of chocolate cake with banana cream, crunchy honey comb and fudgy sauce.  So, great really tasty meal, but not very economical. Their lunch menu may provide more value.

Anyway, weekend continued with more ridiculousness that thoroughly depleted my energy. I came home from work yesterday needing a quick, simple, healthy-ish dinner. Mostly, I just wanted to make something fast to prevent me from eating a whole baguette with butter then falling asleep.

This sweet and sour citrus shrimp was quick, easy, and very tasty.

Thaw desired amount of shrimp in a bowl of water, set aside.
Mix together the juice of one orange, 1/4 cup water, juice and zest of one lemon. (If you don’t have oranges around,3/4 cup of OJ will work), 1 Tbs cornstarch. Honey. 3 Tbs sugar. Sriracha to taste.  Set aside.
Mix 1/2 cup panko crumbs, 1/3 cup cornstarch, salt, pepper and garlic powder thoroughly.
Drain shrimp (leave a bit damp). Heat oil in a frying pan or wok. Dredge shrimp through panko mix until evenly coated, and place in the oil. Fry for a couple minutes each side until pink. Remove from pan and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat process to cook all the shrimp in batches (don’t overcrowd pan).
Pour orange juice mix into the pan, turning the heat to low and stirring. Let it simmer until it reaches a thickened consistency. Optional, toss in some sugar snap peas right before adding the sauce, they barely cook and stay nice and crispy. Once the sauce has reached optional consistency, toss the shrimp back in the pan to coat. Serve over rice.


Cashew Milk Custard

I miss drinking milk with regularity. The milk in China just doesn’t taste right. Maybe it’s because I’m suspicious of probable-possible high levels of melamine? Or I was spoiled by buying glass jars of non-homogenized organic milk from this adorable little bakery down the street from me in college? Whatever the reason, I use milk for cooking or making ricotta cheese, but rarely drink it anymore.

I decided to try making cashew milk for my breakfast quinoa. It’s quite simple, really. Soak a cup of cashews over night, drain and rinse.

Put them in a blender, cover with water, blend the heck out of them til pulverized. Thin out with more water (in total between 2-4 cups),  vanilla extract, honey, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. I’ve been told a Vitamix is necessary here. I only have my dinky little Chinese knock off magic-bullet, so it doesn’t quite pulverize the cashews as necessary. With a stronger blender, the cashews should pretty much dissolve into the water. Mine was a little gritty, even after straining. It keeps in the fridge about 4 days.

Creamy cashew-milk custard, quinoa and chia seeds, with crushed almonds and dried fruit

Creamy cashew-milk custard, quinoa and chia seeds, with crushed almonds and dried fruit

I poured some in a jar with about 1/2 cup quinoa, 1 Tbs chia seeds, dried cranberries, crushed almonds and honey/brown sugar (my go to additions for breakfast quinoa or oatmeal). It was alright, but a little bland, if something sweet can be bland, and the grittiness annoyed me. I wanted something creamy and satisfying.

It hit me, then, that I could use the cashew milk to make  custard cream. Brilliant idea.

1 cup cashew milk (poured through a strainer again. next time, I’ll strain through a clean cotton handkerchief)
1 egg, beaten with about 1/3 cup sugar, 1 Tbs cornstarch and 1 Tbs vanilla extract.

Heat the cashew milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir continuously. After beating the sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla into the egg, temper the egg by pouring a small amount of the hot milk and beating it in. Repeat several times, until the egg mixture is warmed through. Pour it into the saucepan, and whisk thoroughly. Let it simmer for a few minutes until thickened (be sure to stir every minute or so to prevent burning and sticking)

Cool completely. The custard can be used for anything–eaten by itself, poured into a pastry tart as a filling, etc.

I mixed the custard with cold, cooked quinoa, chia seeds, crushed almonds and dried cranberry and brought it to work for a post-morning workout breakfast. You prepare several jars in one sitting, and have breakfast ready for the week. More custard to quinoa would make it more dessert like, add fresh berries, there are many ways to tweak it. The custard was pretty sweet, I could have cut back the sugar content more, and still not had to add any sweetener to the cereal.

quinoa custard jar

Miso Eggplant and Tofu

I’ve been going to the gym after work this week, mostly because I can’t figure out how to get in to the gym in the mornings (it’s in a mall that doesn’t open/locks the doors until 10 am, but the gym opens at 6? where is the mythical door that will let me in to the gym on the third flooor????). Then I get home at 7:30 or 8 and I’m ravenous. I meant to cook dinner, and one night fell asleep, and the second night ended up ordering Annie’s pizza because I didn’t have any energy.

But this eggplant dish takes less than half an hour.

Less than five minutes: wash two long eggplants. you can leave the skin on long eggplant, but I ended up wishing I had peeled it too. cut them in half, then into long slices about 1 cm thick. Lay them on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper), brush with olive oil, and pop into a 400F degree oven for twenty minutes.

In that time, whisk together 1/4 cup miso paste, grated ginger and minced garlic, 1 Tbs soy sauce, sesame oil, honey/maple syrup (or both), mirin, a few dashes of Maggi seasoning, and about 2 Tbs water.

At the ten minute mark, carefully turn over the eggplant slices, brush with more olive oil.

Drain and cut a block of tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. I press mine on a paper towel lined plate to remove some moisture. Heat vegetable oil in a pan/wok, then add the tofu. I think tofu tastes best when seared well on all sides.

After twenty minutes, spoon the miso paste mixture onto the eggplant slices and spread out over them. Put back in the oven for 5 minutes. Add some water to thin out the remaining miso mixture, and pour it into the tofu. It will thicken into a delicious sauce–turn the heat down to low, or off completely.

If you are like me and keep ziplock bags of single servings of cooked brown rice in the freezer, take one out and pop it in the microwave for two minutes. Put it in a bowl. Or, before starting this dish, put 1 cup of rinsed quinoa to boil with 2 cups water, once the little tails pop out, it’s finished, serve quinoa in bowl and put the extra away for breakfast.  Ladle tofu onto the rice/quinoa. The oven timer will ding. Serve the eggplant.

Give it a minute before you try to eat–tofu and eggplant are both excellent insulators and you might scald your mouth while trying to stuff your face with deliciousness. The eggplant isn’t oily or rubbery, but has an amazing velvet-creamy texture, and the sauce is perfect over rice and tofu.

MIso Roasted Eggplant over pan seared tofu and quinoa

Miso Roasted Eggplant over pan seared tofu and quinoa

If you have any extra miso sauce, it makes a great vegetable dip. The intense miso flavor and saltiness can be thinned out by a spoonful of plain yogurt, or what I had on hand, cashew paste from making cashew milk.