Category Archives: Food and Recipes

Happy New Year Again


I got myself some perfectly annoying little burns while making risotto the other day. I grabbed the handle of a hot pan and seared a little half inch section along the middle and ring fingers of my right hand. I dabble a bit in cooking here and there and normally count a burn as a bit of a short lived trophy for whatever I’d made. These ones, though, are a pain in the butt. They are right where I’d rest a spoon, grip a pencil and, most notable for current events, grasp my chopsticks.

The Chinese New Year is this week, which means it’s party time. Jesse had a fancy work dinner last night and I knew I’d have to figure out how to get my hands back in the game. I decided to paste on some band-aids, which worked swell for making it easier, though still not quite painless, to pick up, for example, a spare-rib. The problem is that I’ve always loved band-aids with character – why choose something skin-colored when you can choose a cartoon! Before coming to China I made a small first-aid kit consisting of a box of band-aids with a tube of neosporin stuck in it. This is the third time it’s come in handy – China is dirty, even a very small cut gets grody.

Anyhoo, the band-aids I brought are Clifford-the-big-red-dog printed (they’re so cute!) and resulted in far too many questions about my fingers.

I’m sitting in a cafe feeling really darn sleepy. I ran out of work to do and suppose I should get off my lazy arse and give this table over to somebody who wants to buy a $5 glass of juice.

Jesse’s fabulous friend Brendan is in town again for the new year (he’s been in a different city nearly since I introduced him on the night of the spending of a lot of money) and he’s invited us to his family’s house for New Year’s festivities. This is such a big deal in China. It’s like Christmas and Easter in one. I’m imagining that there will be a great deal of weird food, firecrackers, and a certain type of dangerously strong vodka-like liquor called baijiou (white alcohol) that is just about as gross as alcohol can possible taste. I think I’ll have juice.


Gooey Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake


I decided to make a gooey butter cake of sorts. This phenomenon, the transformation of a cake mix into something heart-attackingly decadent, was pointed out to me by All & Sundry and her commenters. It sounded too good to pass up. As you well know, I can’t see a dessert and not try it.

I had a few obstacles, as there always are in expat life. First off, there’s the missing cake mix (see the original recipe here). I wanted to do a chocolate peanut butter version, so found an easy peasy Devil’s Food recipe online and changed it’s fluids a bit to resemble the altered state of the cake mixes in those recipes. I also changed some amounts to generally make it more to my liking (more chocolate). Then there’s the space issue. Everything in our apartment (everything in Shanghai, really) is sized down to squish into our 2-bedroom, 500 square foot apartment. This means small oven, small bowl, small cake pan, no mixer, etc. So I halved the recipe, which means it fits better in our oven and in our only two stomachs.

My third, and I hate admitting it, obstacle is my desire not to gain 10 pounds after a night with this cake. It is made with a cup of butter, a package of cream cheese and 4 eggs. That adds up to (hang on while I get out the calculator) +/- 290 grams of fat. And I was going to add peanut butter! Crap. So first, by halving the recipe, I cut that number in half! Wahoo! Then I took 3 of the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter out. Gone, just like that. Sorry butter. I used half-the-fat cream cheese and low-fat milk (not no-fat milk, the Chinese don’t appear to believe in this). I did, however, use 3 eggs, because splitting those 4 eggs in the recipe in half doesn’t really make sense for the composition of the cake. You want the lower half to be less cakey ( so less egg, only 1) and the top half to be a bit custardy (more egg, so 3). I didn’t really want to be trying to put ¼ of 2 eggs into one batch of goo and the other ¾ in the other batch of goo. So I put one egg in my bottom layer and 2 in my top, hoping for a peanut butter cheesecake kind of consistency for that top layer. My final count is +/- 120 grams of fat for my half-sized cake. Dang, that still sounds like a lot (spoken with mouth full of cake). I did add all that stupid peanut butter, though.

Now, a few helpful hints to avoid the problems I had. Don’t put your plastic measuring cup in the oven to melt your butter. Plastic melts, dummy, take your head into the kitchen with you next time. Also, don’t underestimate the cooking time, gooey is good, slimy is not.

Here’s the recipe: Oven 350-ish; pan 8×8 or 9×9 or whatever

1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
4 tablespoons melted butter (with no plastic in)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
½ cup milk

½ package light cream cheese
2 eggs
½ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup powdered sugar

Grease that pan. Mix together all the stuff for the bottom part and sqooge it down into the pan. Don’t wash the bowl because you are lazy. In same bowl, mix together the stuff for the top part (and bring your damn muscles if you don’t have a mixer) and pour it over the top. Bake it for somewhere between 25 and 40 minutes. If 25 minutes, then you will take it out and dig into a corner, think it’s delicious, let it cool a bit, dig a bit more out and realize it’s not done in the middle but is tasty and slimy. If you put it back in at this point for another 10 minutes, you will take it out and find that your cursed oven has given it a dark brown toasted top. Maybe you liked it better slimy.

Now, this is a cake to be served to a kitchen full of family right when it comes out of the oven. A husband who you have deprived of dinner in order to experiment with cake will do in a pinch.

Spring Festival, Zero Degrees


I started my day off right this morning by adding curry powder to my oatmeal instead of cinnamon. I think I’ll have to have a bit of ice cream to make up for that.

Tonight I’m making chicken noodle soup with a carcass from a chicken we ate the other night. If you’ve had my momm’s noodle soup, you know it’s the best cold weather treat EVER with chunky homemade noodles. Jesse loves it.

It’s snowing again which is just…unreal. I lost my umbrella the other day in Starbucks. Not so much lost, really, as had it taken right out from under my chair when reading my book. Jeez, who takes a fellow patron’s umbrella?

Next week is “Spring Festival” here in China, which means a week-long celebration of the Chinese new year. It’s tradition to go home and be with family and instead, huge crowds of people are stuck in airports and train stations. It’s sad. Jesse will have a few extra days off next week and, as the bad weather is slated to continue for another week, we are planning on vegging on the couch. I bet I’ll make cookies.

Jesse says on the night of the new year it’s dangerous to go outside because you’ll get hit in the head with a firecracker. On the other hand, we’ve also been told it’s bad luck for the next year if you don’t light one. That’s a hard choice to make – bad luck for a year or speared with a firework? I guess we’ll see.

Not Complaining, Just Commenting


Ugh… I kind of don’t feel good. I’m sort of achy and definitely cold (google “shanghai weather news”. . . are you back? See, this is not normal for southeastern China) and also there’s my stomach. After everything I eat I’m so very full, even if it was just a muffin. Then I feel acidic and not too long after, 2 hours or so, I’m hungry again. Ravenous, actually. And also my bowels are a bit out of sorts, but that’s a given here.

Let’s see, today I ate: A bowl of oatmeal and some yogurt (and then was so full), then a few hours later had a fried-egg-on-a-chewy-pancake thingy from a street stall (cause I was soooo hungry), then met Jesse for an afternoon romp in the snow while he broke from work. Then, I had an hour and a half to wait for him til he finished work, so I went in the seldom visited posh café I used to frequent and had a piece of cheesecake (and I was very full). Then we got some dinner after he got off work and I could hardy eat any of our spicy tofu and wok-ed greens because I got full so fast.

Now, what do I mean by wok-ed greens? (new topic. Weather and health = dull) So, Momm and Daddy had the pleasure when here to try out the vast array of “greens” that are prepared very simply. Flash fry with garlic, add water and msg, serve hot. And it’s almost always our favorite dish. These ones were small leaves, very green on tips, white on bottoms. There are also stringy tough greens, small sprout-like greens, mountain vegetable, white leaves, spinach, many called just “green vegetable”, cabbages galore and what appears to be romaine lettuce all prepared in this fashion and always delicious. It usually seems any single restaurant may offer one or two different dishes of greens.

OK, I’ve got to go find another tums.

Not Toasty


Shanghai is famous (at least among the expat population) for being freakin hot and miserable over the summer and bone-chillingly cold and miserable over the winter. This means I have nearly endless (and boring) writing material about the weather. All that to say, folks! It’s cold outside! It’s been down to about 4 degrees C at night and up to, maybe, 9 C during the day. Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense to any of you back home, but it doesn’t to me, either. Jesse always computes it in his head for me. He’s not here, so you all get is the TV’s version of the weather. The real problem with this cold (which is not so cold, I know) is the same issue we had up north in Japan in winter. Houses aren’t insulated or provided with sufficient air-warming devices. Our “heater” is actually our air-conditioner, and unfortunately for it, when the weather reaches it’s typical extremes both in summer and winter, this device fails to either cool or warm up the apartment. It’s just too “breezy” in here. I can feel the air wafting in even 8 inches away from each window. Where all the pipes – be they water, fan, or AC related – exit the apartment, there are large holes in the house around them, like the workers misjudged the width of the pipe by 3 times. On the gustier days, there is literally a breeze through the apartment. So, anyway, it’s cold!

On a positive note regarding the coldness, Jesse and I have been spending more time in at night, with me cooking, rather than eating street food, so our bowels have been a little less disturbed (only a little less, though. I believe I will not be regular until we’ve been back home for a few months). Especially fortunate is the wintery, bone-padding food I’ve been making, which is adding to our bulk to keep us a bit warmer at night. Seriously, I made Alfredo sauce last night! I’m hoping all summer it will be too hot to cook or eat, so we can lose this weight. I really need to stop making dessert. In the month since we bought the (glorified toaster) oven, I’ve been industrially proving to Jesse just what I CAN do with a little butter, flour and more butter. My latest best-dinner-ever was Chicken Chili Verde and beer bread. All made with random interesting substitutes that are possible to find in China – no poblano peppers or tomatillos here. The beer bread was awesome and easy. Very yeasty and dense and I used dark brown sugar, so it was extra tasty.

I could talk about all the decadent dishes I’ve made over the past few weeks, but that’s probably only exciting for me. I have updates to make on my 52 books list but haven’t gotten around to it. I am currently reading Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld and can’t put it down, so I think I’ll go back to the book!

Fall Soup


I wrote this a few weeks back to go with some pictures that are now on flickr. That orange-y soup and the picture of cheese? They go with this story

I improvised a fantastic soup the other day. I wanted something homemade, and something I could make in one (small) pan. What I really wanted was some hot soup. Not ramen, not hot and sour, not local. I wanted my mom’s potato-cheese soup. I had everything I’d need except for milk and potatoes. Our local supermarket likely wouldn’t have potatoes and they’re not everyday food here, so are a bit spendy.

There are, though…

Wait, I have to interrupt, I’m watching the most surreal thing on TV just now. It’s a game show, sort-of, and a woman was 1st challenged to hula hoop 8 hoops all lashed together while standing on a 20 foot (or so) tall podium. She did that, then, hula hooped in a large circle, hopping on one leg, and then, while hooping, picked up (off the ground) 3 razor blades and 5 nails, and now she hula hooping while also cutting out one of those Chinese cut-out-designs from red paper. It’s a butterfly. She folded the paper and cut out a string of butterflies while hula hooping folks. Every one of these activities was done to edge-of-your-seat type music. Maybe it’s a “weird talents” type show? There’s a new guy on and so far, All I can see that he can do is pour water from one glass into another. I’ll keep you posted.

There are, though, street venders selling roasted yams (or sweet potatoes) on nearly every corner in fall. So Jesse went out and got me a few of those and I went to work. Yam and Cheese soup doesn’t have the same ring, but I figured it would taste very autumn-y.

Oh my. there’s a man on TV squirting water out of his eyes and putting out candles with it. It’s coming from his tear duct that you can see there on the inside of your eye. He put out 12 pillar candles. It was…kind of gross.

OK, um, soup. You know what? I’m losing steam here with my soup story! The TV show is far more interesting, and I’ll bet if you were here next to me and I was telling you about my soup, you say “mmhm” a lot and then when I finished and said, “So what do you think?”, you’d say, “Huh? Yeah, potatoes sound great.”

So first I cut up a bit of bacon, browned that, and added some onion and garlic. It was important to let this stage brown a bit, as I wasn’t using stock and the flavor of some browned onion goes a long way. After a little, I added some cold water to the hot pan and scraped up all the brown stuff that had stuck to the bottom of the pan. I halved my roasted yams and scraped out the insides. This went in the soup. I then cut up only the skin of one half a yam and put it in the soup, because after that I realized the skin was really dirty. At home I’d have spread butter on the skin and then eaten it, but here I tossed it.

If you’re wondering about the show, some kid played the drums and sang at the same time and another did what I must assume was a comedy routine. But I think some strange stuff will be on after a commercial, because they showed a man standing in front of a row of maybe 20 small bowls with an egg yolk in each.

Can you pay attention to my story now? Uh…soup…browned…yam, right. So here’s where I stepped back and let it bubble for awhile (bubble, bubble), adding a lot of salt and pepper as they are the only spices we have so far. When it had cooked long enough that it tasted good (10 minutes?), I turned it off and added some grated “Tasty Cheese” (what? That’s what it’s called). Last in was some chopped up fresh parsley that I’d gotten on a whim for some pasta that was never made.

It was put in bowls, topped with more cheese and Jesse said it was delicious. So did I.

And the TV show must’ve ended because the news came on. I think it’s going to rain in Beijing.

Oh, Pumpkin Pie


Oh! Pumpkin pie, how much I love you,
yet, how unfortunate, you love me, too.
From the kitchen, you beckon to me,
delicious with a cup of coffee.
You are best the morning after,
eaten from hand tastes all the better.
Thinking of you, as a toothsome treat,
I think of watching the ocean, with dogs at my feet.

My ode to pumpkin pie, thanksgiving, and Cayucos. I have one piece left, for tomorrow morning. Delicious! Every thanksgiving, as I’m chowing on pie, I think I should make pumpkin pie more often. Then again, if I did, it wouldn’t be so special, would it.