Real Chinese Food

(Sorry… long and full of photos!)

We had our concerns about the food situation in China, since Larry is pesco-vegetarian (and a wimp – doesn’t like anything even remotely spicy). Pork is used heavily in China, and is often found in vegetable dishes to add flavor.We weren’t sure if he’d end up eating mostly steamed rice.

In addition, we knew we’d be spending a lot of time on trains and planes, and we’d heard that the food provided on tours was often not very good.

Fortunately, we had nothing to worry about! We prepared a paper with some phrases in Chinese characters on it before we went (like “I eat vegetarian”, “I do not eat meat”, “I eat fish”, “Not Spicy”). We used those a few times, but usually we were with someone who was able to talk to the waitress and work things out.

The tour company we used for the tour portion of the trip was great. One of the reasons we selected them was that they offer “a la carte” meals. Instead of serving a set menu, you are given a (generous) budget and can order whatever you want. The restaurants we were taken to were excellent, and our guides helped us select food items.

The food was delicious! I wish we had Chinese food even remotely like it here. (Most of our Chinese restaurants have Vietnamese owners – and I also think the food has been Americanized a lot.)

The fruits and vegetables were outstanding – so much better than our produce. We stopped at one of the many fruit stands when we were out in the country one day and got some strawberries. They were the best I’ve ever eaten. There were often fruit stands/carts at the tourist places we went to, and one of the popular items were cucumbers – they’d peel them whole and put them on a stick. Actually a great idea – refreshing, low calorie, and hydrating.

Most of our lunches and dinners looked something like this:

Mei Zhou Dong Po restaurant

Many different dishes, brought out to the table as they were prepared, and put on a large lazy Susan. One of the things I thought was interesting was that although steamed or fried rice were commonly eaten, they are apparently normally brought out at the end of the meal, rather than at the beginning or with the other food. Larry told one of our guides that in the U.S., we usually get them at the same time and put the meat dish over the rice – our guide thought that was strange.

Our guide also told us that it was a good rule of thumb to order one more food item than the number of people in the group. When I asked if they have such a variety of different food items when they cook meals at home, he said yes – but often they make enough so that they can have the leftovers for lunch the next day.

One of the notable dishes we had twice, once at the meal shown above, was Sichuan chicken with chilies, shown below. You don’t eat the chilies – just pick through them for the chicken bits. It’s hot from the chilies, but the Sichuan peppercorns numb your mouth so you don’t really mind. I liked it a lot.

Sichuan Chicken

We did, of course, have Peking Duck while we were in Beijing:

Peking Duck in Beijing

And it was wonderful. First they bring out the dish of pancakes and vegetables, and the chef carves off the crispy skin and the head, which are brought out first for you to enjoy while he carves the rest. (That’s the lower left of the rectangular plates above.) The pieces of skin are dipped in either sugar or a strawberry sauce. Then they bring out plates of duck meat – some with fat, and some without. Then if you want (and we did), they will make soup from the bones to be served later in the meal. The duck was marvelous. Even my SIL, who doesn’t like duck, tried it and really liked it. It was not at all greasy or gamey.

Many of the restaurants we went to had picture menus. This was the first one we encountered, at Grandma’s Home. We wondered why there were fashion magazines on the table, until Larry’s niece told us those were the menus:

The picture menu at Grandma's Home restaurant

This is where we first had Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish, another dish we had more than once:

Mandarin fish at Grandma's Home restaurant

The flesh of the fish is cut into strips that are still attached, then it’s battered and deep-fried. The fish is intended to look like a squirrel, with the meat being the fur. I’m sure real squirrel never tasted this good.

One of the really fun things we did on the tour was to visit a private home, where a traditional home-cooked meal was prepared for us. That’s the hostess in the purple shirt below, showing us how to roll and fill dumplings.

Making dumplings - Xi'an

She made a wonderful assortment of dishes for us, most of which we’d eaten before anyone thought to take a photo:

Home-cooked meal, Xi'an

We also had lunch one day at a Chinese fast food restaurant. Meals for 6 people including beer, for a total of about $12. Huge portions – most of us couldn’t finish our meals:

Fast food lunch, Beijing

It wasn’t all Chinese food all the time, though. We did go to a Bagel place, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and even a deli where I had a Reuben. One of the places we went that wasn’t very traditional was Element Fresh, where I had this delightful warm spinach and salmon salad that was quite delicious:

Lunch at Element Fresh

Whew. Did you make it to the end? It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t take too many photos of the food. It would have been too hard to select a few for posting.

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The other side of the world

Hi! Or perhaps I should say nǐ hǎo.

I’ve been MIA here for a while for various reasons, but the latest reason is that we were on a trip to China.

Larry’s niece is living there for two or three years for her husband’s work, so we ended up going on a family visit with Larry’s brother and sister-in-law, and his nephew. The five of us flew to China and visited with the niece and her family for a few days, then went off on a tour for a week, before returning to Shanghai for a few days before coming home.

It was a long trip, and one we were definitely a bit nervous about (especially the food issues with Larry being a pesco-vegetarian), but it all worked out well.

The Chinese people were VERY friendly, and seemed excited to see foreigners, especially Caucasians. (Many of the tourists are Indian, and there is apparently a good-sized population of African immigrants living in China.) Larry’s niece said that in her city with a population of about 5 million, she only knows of about a dozen Caucasians – and only 5 of them are Americans. We spent several days in her city and in tourist spots not normally visited by foreigners, so I wonder if a lot of the people had never seen white people in person before. Certainly if they have, it’s very rare. I noticed a few people taking selfies with us in the background. I’m sure we’re in a lot of photos! Larry’s niece has two children – a toddler and a baby, and they were constantly being fawned over.

At the more popular tourist sites, such as in Beijing, we did see other foreign tourists – though mostly Indian/European/Australian – we only noticed a handful of Americans. Even in Shanghai, Caucasians were more of a rarity than I expected for such a popular destination.

Young children would giggle and say “Hello” or “Hi” and wave – and then were tickled pink when we said hello and waved back. A few people even wanted to have their picture taken with us. I wonder what they were going to tell their friends and family about us! I think Larry was particularly interesting to them because of his ponytail and beard. Two of our guides mentioned that the only people with hair like that are either artists or musicians.

Besides being friendly, they were also very helpful. When we were trying to get from the Shanghai airport to our hotel on our own – we ended up taking the Maglev, the Metro (subway), and then walking a few blocks – several people volunteered to help us along the way when they could see we needed some guidance. It’s a good thing, or we might still be at the train station.

I’m planning to share some of my experiences and observations in future post(s), but for now I’ll just leave you with a couple of fierce terracotta warriors.

Larry and Cheryl - Terracotta Warriors!

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The Grass is Greener

But not by much.

My new cardigan is very, very green.

Vintage Green

It’s not a color I would normally wear, but I got the yarn for such a great deal, that I couldn’t resist. It’s Patons Classic Wool that I found it at the local Dollar Tree. For a dollar a skein, how could I pass it up?

I considered overdying it, but then decided that it might work well for a vintage (1966) cardigan pattern I had. The pattern called for bulky yarn, but the worsted-weight held double gave exactly the right gauge.

It worked up really fast at that gauge (2 weeks from start to finish), and I like the weight. It’s perfect as a light jacket for cool temperatures.

When I was looking for buttons, there were some green buttons that matched the yarn very well, but were strangely thick. Buttoning the thick fabric over the thick buttons might have been an issue. I was just about to settle for some cheap brown buttons – they looked pretty good with the green, but were a little smaller in diameter than I’d like. But then I saw these.

Vintage Green sweater buttons

Just the right size, and sort of an olive green that went with the yarn without matching it too closely. They were kind of pricey for buttons, but considering that the yarn cost next to nothing, I figured it was OK to splurge a little on the buttons.

Pattern: Bernat 518-141
Ravelry: Project notes
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool, leaf green, 8 skeins (held double throughout)
Needles: US 11 and US 9

Modifications:

The biggest modification was construction. The pattern called for knitting all of the pieces flat and seaming. With such bulky yarn, I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of having thick raglan seams at the shoulders. But I didn’t want to knit it top-down, because the upside-down cable stitches would have bothered me. Instead, I knit all of the pieces bottom-up to the armhole, working the armhole bind-offs on each piece. Then I put all of the pieces together and worked the yoke in one piece.

Everything else I changed was pretty minor. I added a couple of stitches to the body of the sweater at the hem for a little more ease at the hips, but decreased them away as I worked up the body, so that I ended up with the same number of stitches at the underarm as called for in the pattern. I also changed the length of the garter stitch sections at hem, cuffs, and neck – some was on purpose, but the bottom hem is short by one garter ridge by accident.

 

 

 

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Walk With Me

It’s a beautiful spring day – how about taking a walk with me through Red Butte Garden?

There are lots of Lenten Roses and these lovely Pasque Flowers in bloom right now:
Pasque Flowers

The early daffodils and the dwarf iris have faded, but there are plenty of other varieties of daffodils in bloom and yet to come. I wonder how many daffodil bulbs they have – certainly in the tens of thousands – perhaps even in the hundreds of thousands:

Daffodils by the dozens

The paths are lovely to wander, with swaths of color on each side.

Garden Path

The cherry trees are in full bloom, with buzzing bees aplenty:

Cherry Tree in bloom

There are some very interesting flowers, like this odd green iris, which I barely noticed at first. A search tells me that it is called a “Snake’s Head Iris“:

Green Iris

Before leaving the garden, I spent a few minutes sitting by the pond, listening to the birds, and the murmur of the stream.

Pond

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Indoor Blooms

While the spring bulbs are in full force outside, there are plenty of blooms inside as well.

Bonnie inspired me to post a photo of the orchids on my windowsill. Most of these started blooming about a month ago, and will continue to bloom for at least another month. I have a couple of others that bloom in the fall, as well.

orchids

These are all “grocery store” orchids, most of which I’ve had for at least a year or two. The lady slipper on the left (green and white) is new this year. The others are all Phalaenopsis orchids, which are really pretty easy to grow.

I’ve had good luck with my orchids reblooming and lasting for at least a few years, but even if I didn’t, they’re still a great bargain. If you buy an orchid when the blooms are just starting, and there are a lot of buds, you can pretty much expect 2 to 3 months of flowers. So even if you toss the plant out or give it away when the flowers are gone, it’s still a lot of bloom for the buck.

 

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Vintage Green

I took my mother to a local dollar store recently. While we were going up and down the aisles, she spotted a bin of brown fun fur yarn, and jokingly said “Look! You can knit me a mink coat!”. A lady further down the aisle gave us a funny look. Did she think my mom was serious? Anyway, next to the fun fur was a bunch of Patons Classic Wool, all the same color – leaf green. I’ve been on a yarn diet since I have so much in my stash, but for a buck a skein? Heck yes. It’s not the most flattering color for my skin tone, but I figured even if I didn’t use it for something, someone would. I could make some baby stuff, or even just give it all to my mom to use for her charity knitting (hats and scarves for the local homeless shelter).

They had 20 skeins, so I bought them all. Over the next couple of days I checked out some of the other stores in the same chain, but none of them had yarn.

I didn’t really expect to like the yarn all that much – I loved the old Patons Classic Wool, but had heard it wasn’t as good since they moved production from Canada to Turkey. But I played around with it and did some swatches – and I really like it. It feels much nicer than Cascade 220, and doesn’t really seem much different from the older version.

I figured that if I made a cardigan, or mixed it with white in a stranded/striped sweater, the color might not be that bad on me. But there was so much of it! That’s when I had the idea to double it and use it as super-bulky yarn. I browsed through my patterns, and came up with a Bernat pattern booklet from 1966. I’ve been wanting to make some of those old patterns. The doubled worsted yarn gave exactly the right gauge, so I started on one of the patterns.

It’s big and bright and very green, but so far I like it.

Vintage Green

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Spring!

That snow we had in my last post sure didn’t last long. By the next day, most of it was gone. It’s been in the 70’s for the last few days – beautiful enough for grilling and dining on the patio, and drinking lemonade on the front porch.

With spring comes yard cleanup, which has been keeping me busy for a few days. The garden is looking great with all of the crocus, daffodils, and violets in bloom.

crocus

Last year I planted a couple of varieties of dwarf narcissus. They’re so cute!

narcissus

But my little garden is nowhere near as spectacular as the ones at Red Butte Garden this year. I love going there for walks and enjoying whatever’s in bloom during the year:

spring bulbs

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First Snow Day

Barbie: What the heck is this white stuff? Have you been baking bread again? Last time you got flour all over the house.

Barbie Snow Day 1

Crystal: Yippee! It’s snowing! First real snow we’ve had all year! Watch me make a snow angel. I hope it snows enough for us to build a snowman.

Barbie Snow Day 2

Barbie: You want snow? I’ll book a one-way ticket to Boston for you. Stupid white stuff. I’m going to get my boots wet.

A couple of hours later…

Crystal: Look! It’s knee deep! Let’s go build that snowman!

Barbie Snow Day 3

Barbie: That’s not exactly the kind of man I’m interested in.

Crystal: Fine. I’ll just make my snow angel.

Barbie Snow Day 4

Barbie: Here, let me help you.

Barbie Snow Day 5

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Meals from the pantry

What do you make when you haven’t been to the store lately, and have to rely on whatever staples you have on hand?

I’ve posted about this before with a couple of my go-to recipes, but was reminded again today when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Spaghetti Pangrattato. Mmmm. Must try this soon.

 

 

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FO: Gathered Scarf

AKA: The Giant Tootsie Roll

Gathered Scarf

This was a good travel project – easy to just pick up and work on without needing a pattern, and small enough to be portable.

Gathered Scarf

Pattern: Gathered Scarf: Pattern page, Project Notes
Yarn: Filatura di Crosa Superior, 2 balls (thanks, Cookie!)
Needles: 4mm and 3mm

Super soft, and nice and long so I can wrap it twice around my neck and still have nice tails.

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