Thursday, March 31, 2011

Red Thai Tofu

Well, husband and I just went mattress shopping and I am so happy that we will have a real mattress! Ours is like sleeping in a valley right now. Life is about to improve for me drastically. We were starving, even though it was only 5 when we got home.

This dish was awesome. It came out looking like the tofu I ate every day in China, but the Thai flavors are out of this world. It was 30 minutes start to finish, and only 110 calories per serving!!! Win and win!

The recipe is another one from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra. I served this with some roasted asparagus and wine (obviously).

Red Thai Tofu
1 block firm tofu, cubed up
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 giant clove elephant garlic, or 4 cloves standard garlic
1 Tbsp fresh ginger
1 Tbsp red curry paste (hence the red thai tofu)
1/2 cup H2O
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp light agave nectar
15 leaves Thai basil (even Whole Foods didn't have it, regular basil worked just dandy)

Heat up your skillet and saute tofu in a little bit of oil or cooking spray. Just shake the pan around rather than stirring the tofu and breaking it all up. It takes about 10 minutes to brown. Add a tad of soy sauce (not all of it) and brown for a minute or two longer. While it's cooking, chop up the veggies so you are ready to chuck them in the pan while it's good, oily and hot. Set tofu aside.

Add the veggies to the pan, and cook for five or so minutes. Mine browned up a lot, so I added a Tbsp of red wine to loosen up all the good bits from my skillet.

While all that's going on, make up the sauce by mixing together the water through the agave. Add the sauce back to the pan with the tofu. Cook for 5 minutes just to heat through. Add the basil and serve. DONE.

The wine:

Dave and I went to a "blending party" at a local winery recently. Our red blend won 2nd place in a blind taste test of all the other attendees. However, the winery owners liked our blend so much, they decided to bottle it! How fun. Not like we get royalties or anything, just a fun story. It's called "dedication" by Round Peak's Skull Camp line of semi-dry wines.

You're jealous. Admit it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Zucchini Raisin Muffins

When I was a kid, my grandmother always had zucchini growing in her garden. Every summer she would make endless loaves of zucchini bread, that I would slather in butter and devour in two seconds. I love her zucchini bread so much, and she would always make sure she had a loaf ready when she babysat my brother and myself.

After she passed away I don't think I've had zucchini bread once, nor have I tried to make it. I've made these zucchini raisin muffins a few times before, though they taste nothing at all like the loaf I loved so much - they are still really good and surprisingly healthy. They come from my favorite cookbook, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas.

I love to have them with some soup or salad for lunch - or with an apple as a snack.

Zucchini Raisin Muffins
13/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup natural granulated sugar
1 cup vanilla yogurt (soy or dairy) or applesauce (I have used both and the results are similar)
2 Tbsp safflower oil
1/3 cup soy milk
1 cup firmly packed grated zucchini (I put mine right in the food processor)
3/4 cup chopped raisins
1/3 cup chopped walnuts (I used mine already in the Walnut Cheeze)

Preheat oven to 350, oil a muffin pan. Mix dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, then the zucchini and raisins. Divide into 12 muffins and bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Done and done! So simple!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vegetable Korma

Tonight I made another recipe from Appetite for Reduction - although I took away the low calorie appeal of this meal since I didn't have any low fat coconut milk... which is fine with me - the full fat is so much better.

Today I worked all day - and having the house alone to himself today, the husband decided to go play hockey. I mean, what else would you do Sunday morning? Luckily, he came home and cleaned the entire house. Brownie points! While I was making dinner and baking some goodies, he announced he was going to play another hockey game, and would be missing dinner. So I enjoyed this one myself.

There is an amazing Indian place by us, and I cannot help always ordering the veggie korma - which is made with cream. This recipe replaces the dairy with delicious coconut milk, and what it lacks in spice it makes up with awesome flavor. I heaped sriracha on, so if you like spice be prepared.

2nd Avenue Vegetable Korma
1 tsp olive oil
1 small red onion
3 cloves garlic (I used one giant clove of elephant garlic)
2 Tbsp minced ginger
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp Na++
2 cups vegetable broth
1.5 pounds cauliflower
1 pound zucchini
1/2 pound carrots
3/4 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup light coconut milk (I used one can full fat)
1 tsp agave nectar
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Heat oil in pan, saute onion until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and and saute for a bit longer. Add broth with spices and Na++. Add all of the veggies, cover the pot and crank up the heat for 7-9 minutes, letting the curry boil. Add in the peas, coconut milk and cilantro.

Serve over jasmine rice and garnish with cilantro. Don't forget the sriracha.

Now it's time for the Californication season finale! :-)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

I have made these before- but haven't gotten a photo of them yet! Oh it was worth it making these again! I had half of a butternut squash left over from the Mac and Cheeze earlier in the week. I was wondering what I could possibly use it for, when I remembered that this was one of the best recipes I have ever eaten in my life EVER... so why waste precious squash on some inadequate dish.

I looked up the recipe and had EVERY SINGLE ingredient - serendipity! So I roasted some squash and made these glorious, glorious enchiladas. Ah yes, can't you just taste the goodness?

Along with the enchiladas, I threw together some little taco salads (chopped spinach, cilantro, black beans, sweet corn, crumbled tortilla chips and avocado). Check it out.

The dressing was simple, I threw together some salsa, Vegenaise, chili powder, cayenne pepper and hot sauce)

The wine... of the wine. We rarely (and by rarely I mean NEVER) by reserve ANYTHING... but we tasted this Pinot Noir at our grocery store of all places, and knew that it was a worthy splurge. I'm going to keep enjoying it for the rest of the night.

All anyone needs, wine, hot sauce.. dressing (?) Okay I could live without dressing. And hot sauce.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas (adapted from Vegetarian Times)
1/2 large butternut Squash, cubed
1 tsp olive oil
3 oz. cream cheese
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Na++ and pepper
6 small flour tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce (hot works best!)
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Toss butternut squash cubes in olive oil, bake for 40 minutes at 450 - flipping once halfway (doing the squash this way gives it an awesome smokey flavor from the nicely browned edges). When done, mash in the cream cheese.

While the squash is baking - saute red onion and garlic about 7 minutes, until translucent. Add in spices and stir for a second or two. Add the mashed squash and cream cheese mixture. Oh yeah. Mmmm. Then add the chopped cilantro.

Assemble the enchiladas - I hope I don't have to explain this further. Pour on the sauce, sprinkle on the cheese - and bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Eat and be in awe of the glory of butternut squash enchiladas.

Drink wine. The end.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Walnut Cheeze

Listen guys, I enjoy healthy food as much as one possibly could. I think I eat a pretty healthily, but this week I figured I would push things just way over the edge to make up for my less than stellar week last week. I've been adding to my blogroll recently - and added Choosing Raw which has a lot of healthy raw vegan recipes. Pretty much my first day of subscribing THIS recipe for Raw Vegan Walnut Cheeze. I had ll of the ingredients, so I figured "what the hell?"

The taste is very flavorful, almost like worchestershire sauce is added in. I've been eating it as Gena, the blog author did, as apple and cheeze wraps within romaine lettuce leaves. Oh yes, this is pure raw rabbit food, but surprisingly filling. It hopefully offset the Mellow Mushroom Pizza and Rogue Brothers beer I drank last night. Whoops!

Notice the lunch at my desk - yes, I work while I eat. I have got to graduate!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Creamy Tomato Risotto

Again with the theme of wintry dinners... I'd like to mention again that it is in the 80's here in NC. Last week it was a little chillier- maybe 60's. So we are eating a little heavily this week - and we'll switch to lighter, springier meals next week. Whatever, food is food.

Anyway, I had bookmarked THIS recipe, adapted from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook, on Oh She Glows way back in December (I know, about a million years ago). But my cooking hadn't been going very well back then and I am just catching up on old recipes now.

Angela updated the recipe just recently, adding some of the cheese sauce from the Butternut Squash Mac and Cheeze for added creaminess and awesomeness. Well, since I planned on making the mac and cheese I figured I may as well go all of the way and make the risotto also! I didn't have any barley, as the original recipe calls for, but I had everything else. I also added in about 2 cups of baby spinach for green-ness. It turned out great- so creamy and delicious!

Check out the ultra creamy recipe HERE.

Now I have to pretend I have been working all morning and get some stuff done!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Black Bean, Zucchini and Olive Tacos & mashed yucca

Whenever I get a new cookbook - I tend to gravitate towards the food portrayed in pictures. I have a hard time picturing how a food will look - especially if it's a little strange - but put it into a photograph, and I want to eat it. For Christmas I received Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz - and have finally gotten around to cooking from it (now that I am actually cooking on a regular basis).

I made the mango BBQ baked beans for a cookout, and they were TO DIE FOR. I didn't get a picture because I was too busy playing Angry Birds, most likely. I will make them again and show them to you.

The other night I made the black bean, zucchini and olive tacos, which came together in no time at all! I paired them with mashed yucca and some guac. My husband did NOT like the mashed yucca - but the latin place by us serves it fried, and he doesn't like that either - so I should have guessed. More for me!And I had just enough left over for one taco for lunch the next day. How delightful!

Black Bean, Zucchini and Olive Tacos

1 Tsp Olive Oil
2 Zucchini, diced
2 jalapenos diced ( I left seeds in)
1/4 tsp Na++
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
6 oz. salsa verde
16 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sliced scallions
8 corn tortillas (I used 6 small flour... 6 because my husband put so much filling into his two they were impossible to eat)

Heat oil, and saute zucchini and jalapeno with the 1/4 tsp salt for about 7 minutes over medium heat. When the zucchini is nicely browned, add the garlic, olives, cumin, coriander and saute for two more minutes. Add salsa and black beans and cook for 5 minutes more. Serve with tortillas (obviously) scallions, and guacamole.

Mashed Yucca with Lime and Cilantro
2 pounds yucca, chopped into chunks (use potatoes if you can't find any)
2 Tbsp lime juice (from limes, not a bottle)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp Na++

The yucca comes looking like a sweet potato covered in leather. I had no problem peeling it with my nice peeler and chopping it with my nice wusthof knife. If I had used my cheaper stuff, I'm not sure how smoothly it would have went. Peel and chop the yucca, cover with salted water and boil for about 20 minutes.

Strain the Yuca over some sort of mug or measuring cup so that you can catch about a cup of the starchy water - which you will add back in (rather than using oil or cream). Add yuca back to pot, add lime, cilantro, oil and salt. Mash and then add the hot water bit by bit. I used maybe 1.2 cup. It is like gloppy mashed potatoes, with a less earthy taste. I love yuca and you will too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheeze

When I arrived home from China Sunday night, I was obviously wide awake. It was 11:30 PM in North Carolina, but 10:30 am in China. When I arrived in Beijing, I was easily able to adopt the new schedule, and had no problems sleeping whatsoever. However, it was a different case back in the U.S. This first night I was up until 3 or 4 in the morning, thinking I could sleep until noon and head into work.

I was very ambitious Sunday night. I made my workout schedule for the week, and a schedule of healthy meals breakfast-dinner for all the days of the week. Well, little did I know the sleep deprivation ahead of me. I had no control over my body or my brain. I slept 4 hours a night, waking up at 3am. I would force myself to stay awake as late as possible, so that I may sleep in.. but alas... the latest I slept in was 5am. I went to the gym Monday morning at 5:30 and worked out, because what else do you do that early? The rest of the week I could barely move. My head felt such an intense pressure, it was if I were deep-sea diving. I couldn't function, let alone concentrate at work, work out and get home to make dinner. Instead I was a zombie all week.

I finally felt all right on Saturday morning, after a nice dinner with my husband and half of a bottle of wine. I was able to sleep ten whole hours!

Well, now it's a new week, and last week's recipes have become this week's recipes. I started this dish Sunday I think, which seemed a little cold-weather appropriate juxtaposed with our glorious 80 degree weather here. I've always wanted to try a vegan macaroni and cheeze recipe, but never did anything about it. When I saw THIS recipe I knew it was time to give vegan mac and cheeze a try once and for all. And let me tell you what --- I'm glad I did! The dish turned out great! Even my husband loved it, and even took most of it to work for lunch the next day (hence my tiny portion in the photo) he's helping me diet I think.

Check out the original recipe HERE on Oh She Glows. I made the straight outta the pot version. My husband won't wait on baking things. He often makes me abort dinners because he has gotten so hungry he needs to go out to eat right then (which basically takes the same amount of time as just waiting for me to finish).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 8 – The final “F You”

There was an earthquake and tsunami in Japan the day before we are set to depart – causing many delays in China. When I check in, it says my flight is delayed – but by the time I get to the airport the 1 hour delay becomes 3 hours, and I have to be re-routed to an airport 2 hours from my house.

Luckily my husband doesn’t care and agrees to pick me up there. Aside from the delay, the flights are no problem. The steward gives me a hard time when I ask for my third glass of wine but I insist he bring it to me or else. It helps me sleep 9 hours and then, a full day later, I am home. Go USA.

Day 7- Back to Beijing

I awake around 7am to the strong smell of urine. The Chinese man who is sleeping opposite of me gets up really quickly and goes to change. I am sure he is the culprit of the pee-pee smell. I read for a little until the strewardess type woman comes to wake us up to prepare for arrival. I notice I am a little itchy and find some bites on my hands. I go look in the mirror and find bites, large ones, covering my face. Someone had brought fleas onto the sleeper car and I am covered in large, red welts, as well as a large hive on the left eyelid that eventually prevents my eye from opening completely. I soldier on, get dressed, and ready for our entry into Beijing.

Our train arrives around 9am, and we get off to catch a taxi and get to our hotel. The hotel is located down a side alley in a Hutong, which if viewed at the start of the trip I would have vetoed.

Now however, it seems like the cutest little place.

We try to check in but it is too early. We drop our luggage and go walk around our Hutong, which is a great tourist area. There were great little shops and a DELICIOUS Japanese reataurant right down the street from us. We go back after lunch and I can finally shower and wash any leftover bugs off of me. I am so thankful.

We plan to go to the Beijing zoo, to see the Pandas. As soon as we arrive we know that it probably will be a distressing experience. The zoo is in terrible condition, and the animals are all dirty and singly housed. The signs clearly say: “do not feed animas,” but since there are no workers or zoologists, or anyone who would remotely be concerned for animal welfare around, people bring bags of vegetables and stick their hands through the fences and feed the animals. I am amazed as I see full-grown adults reaching in to feed zebras. They animals appear very stressed and unhappy. The indoor exhibit that houses the noctornal animals is filled with many loud humans, and people walk by and bang on the glass to wake the animals up, though all it does is stress them further. They are the tiniest enclosures I’ve ever seen and we leave without seeing the Penguins, who are an extra 12 Yuen to see.

It seems to me, that all of the little guidelines that make life easier and people in order (waiting in line, not pushing, not elbowing others when they walk by, letting people of out elevators/doors/subway before you go in, not feeding zoo animals) just do not exist in Beijing in any way.

After the zoo we take an hour long to the Summer Palace. Our cab driver drops us off, and just as we try and enter – the guards inform us that the palace closes at five. Really? As if he knew… the cab driver waited for us. and takes us on a 1.5 hour (!!!!!) ride back to our cute little hotel. I am truly defeated by this point… covered in flea bites and wearing uncomfortable shoes.

We take respite at the hotel for a few, then head out to a Korean bistro, which is by far the most glorious meal we have eaten while in China. We have a few beers, and toast our last night. We head to bed early – sharing the single daybed included in a “standard room.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 6- Get your kicks… and get the hell out

This morning we wake up early and decide to get a Western breakfast at the hotel. Unfortunately, our guide is meeting us at 9:30 and we end up not having enough time to make that dream come true. Instead, we grab some Starbucks and meet our guide. He is to take us to the Terra Cotta warriors- but first takes us to some lame dig site that contain nothing of interest or importance, and also a FACTORY that makes terra cotta warrior recreations. Ingrid is pissed and thinks the guide is only taking us to the factory.

Once back in our van, the English speaking guide bails, telling us he lives nearby and is going. “Good luck with the rest of your day” he says. The Chinese speaking man takes us to lunch at someone’s house, which happens to be the best meal (sauteed bok choy and trumpet mushrooms, fried rice, tofu in black bean sauce, and scallion pancakes. Umm yum) since we have arrived In China. Also, their dog Toto looks like a Teddy bear and lets me pet him for a long time, making this the best stop ever.

The terra cotta warriors are very, very cool. Not all of them have been excavated, but the ones that are really amaze me. However, they have staged some "archeologists" though out the pits, who really are just confused looking old ladies who keep poking the ground with sticks. After being swindled so much by China in general, I start to question whether or not these are even real, or if history in general has been rewritten for some extra tourism money to a small town. Regardless of my doubts, the trip is amazing and I thoroughly enjoy myself.

We are taken to the train station ... always an adventure

But we are three hours early. We walk the streets looking for liquor and are unsuccessful.

Our train car is not so bad as the first day, but does have us rooming with two random Chinese guys. They stare at us as we play UNO and drink two bottles of wine as quickly as humanly possible.

In the morning we will again be in Beijing, the city of wonderment and despair.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 5- Relaxation Nation in Xian

We are awoken 10 minutes before our arrival in Xian, and clean our room and get ready to head into the new town. Right away, Chinese men are peeking into the windows to find Americans, and wait outside of our car to carry our luggage and try to get us to agree to a taxi ride. Right away we upgrade our tickets for a 6 person room to a 4 person (hooray!) and then head to our hotel – which is very nice and right in the middle of the town.

After a long respite in our nice new room, we head out to town to look around and do a little shopping. We first head to the Bell Tower and Drum tower, which again, without a guide, are fun to look at, but we have to idea what they are for and why they are there. Regardless the buildings are very pretty and it is nice.

Shopping is fun, I am getting much better at bartering. We grab a LARGE lunch at a muslim/Chinese (weird mix) restaurant and head to the city wall. Xian is one of the last walled cities back in feudal times. We rent bikes and ride around the wall, which is very nice. We have to pay extra when we return the bikes, as we are 10 minutes past their “closing time.” We are both very angry as they are snickering while requesting the money – but we hand it over anyway.

We head to the local mall, and some other local shops, before heading out to the most American style dinner at Pizza Hut, which is still very Chinese. There is corn on everything! After a quick stop at the local drugstore we head back to the hotel room to unwind while playing uno and drinking wine.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 4 – From Good to Hell and Back Again

We wake up early (me too early, about 5am) and head to the breakfast buffet, where they even set out French fries to accommodate their American guests. We decide we’ll do some sight-seeing before we have to board a sleeper train for Xian. We head to the Temple of Heaven , which is a delightful place.

There are elderly people in large groups dancing, doing some ball dancing, exercising outside and just generally being endearing.The temple is gorgeous and has lots to explore. We take a few hundred pictures then head to lunch – a great corporate looking restaurant that lacks the characteristic Chinese mystery taste that is prevalent in the more local cuisine.

After lunch we head to the Lama temple, which is the only one of its kind outside of Tibet.

The temple is amazing, without an English speaking guide, it’s hard to tell what each building is for, but looking at all the Buddhas, which culminates in a 5 story high Buddha carved from a single tree is such a unique and beautiful experience. Everywhere people burn incense in large pots, and kneel to honor Buddha.

Last we head to Bei Hai park, which is a park surrounding a large lake. There is a large temple, and a nice hike up to it that precedes it. There is a cave, but it apparently closed before we got there!

We catch a shady rickshaw ride to snack alley (where Ingrid and I are briefly separated and I am sure I am being kidnapped) where we grab some street food for our train ride.

We arrive at the train station after an hour long cab ride. The train station is like a GIANT airport filled with a million people. While waiting in line we meet an American, Matt – who has been backpacking around Asia for a few months or weeks and is really excited about everything. We make plans to meet up with him once on the sleeper. As we enter our train car- it becomes apparent that we are fish out of water. We enterthe car with some very interesting characters, carrying rucksacks, food and pots for tea. The car is smelly, has wet floors, and a single hole in the back of the train for men and women to use for a toilet. I am beyond horrified, and wonder what happened for my life to take such a turn in the wrong direction. Ingrid apologizes profusely, saying she had no idea it would be this bad. We are in a room with 6 people, and we have the middle bunks. There are a father and daughter above us, and apparently grandma and grandma below us. Regardless, we put our stuff in and sit out in the hall to think of how we will survive this. We are both distraught, and words cannot really describe the wretched condition of the train car. It is if we are human cargo, perhaps being shipped off to a concentration camp – only with more tea (in fact, the only commodity on this car is a hot water tap for making tea).

Ingrid decides that the only thing we can do is upgrade. Her faith in God is renewed as we find that the young girl in our bunk speaks English, and can ask the conductor if we can upgrade to a 4 person car. After much trouble and too much time, he tells us that for the equivalent of $100, we can upgrade to a room with just two of us. We agree (of course), nearly sobbing with joy. As we leave, the other passengers begin cat-calling, asking us where we are going in Chinese. Even one car up conditions improve, the crowding lessens, and toilets appear. As the train cars go up (we were on car 5, and are moving to 14) the train becomes nice, even pleasant. The 4 person rooms don’t even really have people in them, and have doors, and access to sinks. When we reach car 12, we know we have arrived, as the attendant has to unlock this corridor with a special badge. Our room is a two person room, complete with a private bathroom, 2 tv’s, a closet, a table, and a nice little chair…. And even bedskirts. I’m not sure what people picture heaven as – but that day, at that time and place, that room was heaven to me.

We stay awake talking of the horror we felt earlier and how there would be no possible way to sleep in a room with 4 other people, the lights on, no window, no door, and two Chinese people climibing up and down our bunks all night. A cart comes by and we order some beer in celebration, and soon retire to enjoy our private room and the 14 hour ride to Xian.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

China Day 3 - The Great Wall

Today my friend and I had booked a private tour to the Great Wall. I
woke up early, too early, and went to hang out in the lobby. I come back to wake up Ingrid, and as soon as we know it, our English speaking guide Sophia showed up to pick us up. It is a two hour drive to the wall – Mutianyu section. We have Sophia, who barely speaks, and our driver, who speaks no English. The ride is interesting (many interesting things to see!) and uneventful. The drive actually reminds me of the drive I once took from the Montego Bay airport in Jamaica to our resort in Falmouth - dirty and dirtier.

We arrive at the wall early enough to use the squat toilets and ride a ski lift to the top.

The ski lift is a quicker ride than expected, and we reach the Wall in no time at all. We are at tower 6, and can walk to tower 1 – so that we may venture back to meet our guides. One thing that I never expected, or even thought of, was that the wall is one giant staircase, and the stairs are very steep!

The hike is very tiring and pretty strenuous – but the view is priceless.

We venture past Tower 1, to a non-visitor area of ruins.

It’s a great hike and makes for beautiful photographs. To end the hike on the wall, we exit via a toboggan run. You cannot go very fast, and of course Ingrid’s need for speed leads to a run-in with an Old Russian lady’s toboggan. It was a very cool way to end the tour.

On the way back to Beijing, the driver takes us on a few stops. First is a cloissne factory. This is an art form of glazing pots covered in copper wire. The factory is very strange, first offering us lunch – where we are the only customers with 5 girls and one older lady waiting on us. As we eat they sit at the opposite table and play video games. When we finish – they all scurry to clean up our table. The factory tour consists of 5 rooms, each representing a different step in the process. In each room there is no activity, except for some old ladies playing cards, and some random vases strewn about. However at the end of the tour lays an entire showroom full of millions of pieces. Ingrid explains that these are made at the sweat factory down the street. It is striking how each place we visit has so many staff members, yet so little customers. I wonder how they all get paid.

Next we stop at a silk museum, which was an eye-opening experience. I had heard of silk worms before but never actually assumed that they did anything. Silk as actually made from the cocoon of the worm, and the cocoon is boiled and the worm removed. The cacoon is then stretched over several different things, until it finally is the length of a full size bed. They act out each stage of the process, and even have dead worms. I doubt I’ll ever use/wear/enjoy silk again. The final stop is a very American-friendly (read: buy-crazy) corporate tea house. They are very irritated when we don’t buy anything.

Back at the hotel, I believe I need a nap, but instead choose to go drink beer in the bar and catch up on email. We stay for about 3 hours just drinking and laughing, then venture out to the same noodle place as the first night. There is old roasted pig parts on the table, and the smell nearly ruins our experience - but the noodles are too good to be ruined by any rancid meat smell. We both head to bed early ready for a new day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

China Day 2 - Assaults A-plenty

We wake up early, around 8am. The city looks so different in the day time. We couldn’t see a bit of Beijing last night. In the day there was so much to see. We first walked to the forbidden city. On the way an art student stopped us, having overheard us speaking in English. He implores us to follow him to his art studio, and shows us his paintings. Says he is coming to NYC next week – a week at NYU for art school with his classmates. If we want, we can buy a painting to help them with a fundraiser! We book it out of there and head to the forbidden city.

The city is breath-taking. The story behind it is unreal – a city for the emperor and his officials, and no one else… except for the spare concubine. There is so much to see, you could stay all day. All characteristic Chinese architecture that I never thought I would ever see up close.

After we go through the forbidden city, we cross the giant walk way and head up to an overlook to view it from above. There are many, many stairs – but the view is worth it.

First we just look at the city – it’s unreal. We don’t realize that we can enter the building at the top, which turns out to be a temple. Inside there is a gold-plated Buddha that is so striking. I kind of want to hang out with him all day.

Heading back down we look for lunch. We choose a bigger restaurant, and the food is pretty crappy. Pancakes, tofu, and scallion dumplings. It doesn’t sit well in my stomach and I feel ill the rest of the afternoon. We head back to the hotel to add more layers before heading to Tiennaman square.

The square is just that, a large square – but again, it’s overwhelming to think about this infamous place, which is plastered with pictures of general Mao.

To cross the street to get anywhere, you have to go underground and enter back onto the street, Each of these corridors is accompanied by a homeless cripple, who is dangling their stump and crying for money. I learn to hate going down into them.

After the square we head to go shopping, which isn’t that far of a hike. We go to the tea distract, where I learn that my friend has developed quite an affliction for tea and tea related products. Shopping is filled with haggling, like many third-world countries (of which classification China is not), and the salespeople are extremely aggressive. They follow you like a shadow around the entire store, to be sure you don’t buy something without their approval. We shop and decide to take a rickshaw back. Of course, the rickshaw takes us on the exact route we just walked in order to find the rickshaw in the first place. He takes us a little further then where we originated, to an old part of town with lots of stereotypical Asian shops full of crap. I visited many of the public squat toilets, which are exactly what they sound like- holes in the ground that you have to squat over. They all have doors, but locals choose to ignore them, they just squat on over and start pooping… and they have terrible aim. The smell is like Slumdog Millionaire incarnate. Also, there is no toilet tissue whatsoever - you must carry it with you – if you don’t have any, you just shake I guess.

After another dinner in a shady-looking hole in the wall, my friend suggests massages, which are about $10 American for 1 hour. She says she gets them here all of the time and they are glorious. This sounds like a bad idea to me, but I am along for the ride. The massage is scarring and upsetting. You don’t take your clothes off, but they put my friend and I in one room, and just start assaulting us- literally. Punching, jumping, kicking. I ask them to stop, but they pretend not to speak English. The pain is unbearable. The desire to bolt out of the room and never look back is the only thing on my mind. As the little girl “masseuse” climbs onto my back and starts jumping, I know I will never fully recover from this experience. Because I can barely walk after the beating my legs and back took – we grab a Gitney (a bike with a motor with a metal contraption on the back) back to the hotel. Ingrid asks how much and he says “3.” We agree and hop in – ready to put an end to the night and forget about the terrible and scarring massage. The ride is about 5 miles an hour, barely over walking pace. We are passed by every other bicycle on the road.

We get to our hotel 5 minuets later, though it was no distance at all. When we get out, my friend hands the driver 3 Yuen. Apparently, when he said 3, he meant 30. He starts yelling, my friend yells back. He yells again and she says take it or leave it. He offers us ten for both of us to get rid of him, and Ingrid turns and walks into the hotel. I follow, more uncomfortable than I was earlier when I was being jumped on. He follows us into the elevator, yelling to be paid. She refuses, saying $3 or nothing. He is livid, yelling and throwing a fit. She tells him she knows he won’t assault us, and I’m not so sure. Finally he takes the $3 and leaves, and we ride back up to our hotel room. I am scared shitless and would have just handed over the 10 he asked for. I am afraid he will follow us back up to the room but we appeared safe enough.


2 glasses of wine and some sleep is a good way to end the first full day in China. J


Is what time I was wide awake today.... oh it will not be a good day.

I have already been to the gym, had my morning smoothie, made the husband's lunch, and made my lunch. My lunch is an attempt to break my addiction to the Whole Foods salad bar. If you have ever been, you know that it is nearly impossible to spend less than $10 on a salad. Everything is so delicious and they charge by the ounce I think! It's not quite as bad as crack, but it costs about the same per day.

A picture of a typical glorious salad: complete with my favorite orange ginger beets. mmmmm. Looks like a disaster area, I know.

So this morning, when I finally accepted the fact that I would not be sleeping any more today, I whipped up a smoothie, baked some 5-spice tofu (tofu cubed and coated in olive oil, Na++ and pepper, and five spice powder, baked 15 minutes at 450), sliced some zucchini and beets, steamed some edamame, drained some garbanzo beans.... and made my own little kitchen salad bar.
Looks better than whole foods, no?

My goal for today is to stay up until 9pm, so that I can sleep until at least 6 tomorrow. Stupid Asia.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Travel Log Day 1 - The Arrival

Because it's already written, I'm going to share my travel log from China! Hope you enjoy!

Arrived in China last night at 9-ish PM. Took the airport express from the Beijing Airport to our hotel, which is located near tiananmen square.

The hotel is nice – nice enough.

What’s most striking to you (me specifically) right away is that NO ONE speaks English. Usually there is at least one person available that speaks a word or two, but literally here no one knows what you are talking about, starting with the hotel attendants. Everything smells profoundly of cigarette smoke, which you soon assume is a habit one picks up to mask the smell of the city- human waste and rancid meat.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and headed out to find a bite to eat. Not much is open immediately around the hotel we are at – so we headed out into the Hutong- alleyways preserved from the times the Forbidden City existed. The Hutong is essentially the alleyways reminiscent of a ghetto – of India, or even NYC. There is garbage lining the street, not in cans, but just loose. I’m assuming someone comes and picks it up the next day… but until then it’s there for you to smell.

We find a noodle shop open, with various pig parts strewn across some tables. The food is great, and we have a great time. Delicious tofu in black bean sauce, vegetable and lo mein, and some wonderful beer and green tea. We grab some wine and head back to the hotel to head in for the night.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Back from Asia

I just got back from Asia.... that was definitely a ONCE IN A LIFETIME trip. I'll share my travel log later- but now I need to concentrate on getting some sleep... I am really off in time and days!!!!!