Thursday 27 September 2012

Back in the habit: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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oatmeal chocolate chip

Okay maybe not the habit, but dang it felt good to at least be back in a kitchen, even if it wasn't my own and I was using two toaster ovens as my ovens - it was still blissful.

I'd been itching to bake something ever since we landed in China, and for some reason oatmeal chocolate chip cookies were on my brain. Ingredients however are not the easiest to come across. Slowly over the last 4 or 5 weeks I've been collecting bits here and there. Unlike at home in Canada, I can't just hit my local grocer and expect to find staples/luxuries like white sugar, brown sugar, butter, flour and chocolate - you know, just about everything involved in cookie making. You want vanilla? You take a 20 minute bus ride to get it. Same goes for baking soda, and chocolate chips.... at least the oats were easy. They seem to be a common ingredient in Chinese breakfast so luckily I could find them everywhere.

While this was certainly a lesson in adaptation, as soon as I closed the door to the outside world, and sealed myself in the kitchen, I was hit with a wave of relaxed glee - it was my time and I was going to use it baking - awesome.

While cooking in such a pint-sized oven took some getting used to, luckily only one tray got singed, and the cookies themselves turned out to be a sweet and hearty treat.

Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside these skyrocketed past my expectations and became a fast favourite.  Rich in both flavour and texture they were a welcome change from the unusual, as proved by the record rate they disappeared!

While it's still in the 30's here in Shenzhen, it's full on autumn in Canada and what's better in autumn than some delicious, hearty cookies? Nothing, that's what. So if the temperature is dipping where you're from, or you just need a taste of home, I can't recommend these highly enough. Trust me, you won't be sorry.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Sweet Treats and More

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick-cooking oats - I used whatever I could find, I couldn't understand the package anyway!
1 cup semisweet or milk chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 325 C or approx. 160 F
  2. In a large bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth.
  3. Mix in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended.
  5. Mix in the oats, and chocolate chips.
  6. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven.
  8. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely - and ward off hungry visitors who happen to smell delicious treats being cooked in a communal kitchen!
  9. Enjoy!

Saturday 22 September 2012

Hiking Dongchong Beach to Xichong Beach: Testing my strength

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Pretty good view, right? This is on the Dapeng Peninsula outside the city of Shenzhen. And this is what greeted us as we crested the first hill after we began our journey from Dongchong to Xichong beach.  Little did I know that I would want to die a thousand deaths before finishing the 4 hour hike.

Mile 0 - Dongchong Village
At one time there was a bridge here ... it seems to have washed away within the last few months

Before I begin, let me tell you that, yes, I would do the hike again. But this time I would be more prepared for what was to come. This journey was grueling, but gorgeous. The scenery was literally breathtaking (and not just because I was heaving my body up the side of a cliff). It's what you expect the Chinese seaside to look like - rugged, but refined, somehow it just fit.  Unfortunately, after about 2.5 hours in I had reached my limit. I was cursing up and down wishing the slog could be over. I was overheated, exhausted, and tired of jumping from boulder to boulder with an exuberant Chinese person nipping at my heels the whole way.

Xichong to Dongchong

Trust me, I know how disgruntled I sound right there. And truth be told, I totally was at the time.  The trek was a few times more demanding than expected and being on the coast we were constantly exposed to the elements for the last 3 hours, which is not awesome when it’s 40 degrees outside, and you are required to scale a cliff with nothing but a thin rope and a few sketchy rock holds for your feet/other hand.

It was also a bit like Disney World in July - crawling with people.  Not only did we arrive with our own group of 30, but we were unfortunate enough to catch up with, and somehow maintain pace with, a tour/school/work group of about 200. It's a well trodden trail, but it's often narrow and quite perilous to the point of dangerous in many place (let's just say, this trail would not be open in Canada), which can be quite difficult to navigate with such a large crowd.  But despite all that, when we finally reached Xichong beach several hours later, I was exhausted but exhilarated. As I rested my body in a mixture of sea and sand, I was able to realize how awesome the experience really was.

Not for the faint of heart, this hike is tough. But if you're up for the challenge, it's also very worth it.  Every so often I would look up and out of my heat stroked eyes and get that realization of being just one little human in a gigantic world. The mountains rolled and layered themselves on top of one another and it became an endless sea of forested peaks. On the other side, the pacific stretched out, craggy but calm - true peace.

On a practical note: From our neck of the woods in Shenzhen, Dapeng peninsula should take about 1.5 - 2 hours to reach (if you're interested in getting there by public transit, check out this blog: Where the hell is Rory?).

UPDATE: You can also stay at Xichong beach by renting a cabin, or bringing a tent and staking a claim on the sand.  Xichong is beautiful mixture of white sand and emerald sea.  We spent a weekend here and it was like being transported to another land altogether. If you have the time, stay awhile and enjoy.

I can see the end! Just one the other side of the bay....
In a week from now Other Half and I will be in Sumatra, Indonesia hiking with some Orangutans, so you know, I'm pretty freaking excited about that.  And we may have skyped with our cat last night, so despite that setting me on the track for crazy cat lady, who probably also carries them around in 100 bags, things are going pretty well here on the mainland. Until next time!

Friday 14 September 2012

Dafen Art Village: Expecting the Unexpected

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Dafen Art Village

I don't think I will ever cease to be amazed by what I see here in China. Sometimes it's great (that sign is telling me I can have 9 dumplings for 4 RMB - roughly 80 cents - ??? sign me up!) Sometimes it's less than great (oh look, that child is using their split pants, I've never seen that before ... you can't erase that, you just can't). Either way, it's a new experience and I can't discredit it for that!

One of the good surprise sites was the Dafen Art Village.  With Shenzhen being so new, it's easy to feel like there is a lack of character about the place, so stumbling into the tiny mishmash of streets that is Dafen Village it was a welcome site to behold.  Surrounded by a Wal-Mart, an elevated metro system, a highway and many highrises, Dafen puts you into a different China.  There is a distinct lack of "new" and a welcome amount of "used" - the Art part of the village itself is actually not that old, but it gives it the character it needed.

For a little history, Dafen Art Village is a reproduction art space. It started in the 1990's with 20 artists and has grown to approximately 5,000 artists and produces anywhere from 60% to 80% of the worlds reproductions (reports vary). Within the village you can find a mixture of reproduction (generally the big classics like Monet and Van Gogh,  and originals of the artists own creation. On a personal note, I'm not sure that I agree with the reproduction aspect, as it seems to take a bit of the art out of it, but as a space that I can wander relatively traffic free and be surrounded by some very impressive works, I'm all for it.
Dafen Art Village

One of my favourite sightings for the day - Obama and Dumbledore, two great men hanging out (get it!?) like it ain't no thang. What I wouldn't give to have these two men in the same room at the same time (not in painting form), oh the conversations!

Dafen Art Village
I was mostly taken with the tiny (like, tiny tiny) alley ways that served as the main display space for many of the artists. It made the area feel a little bit secret and really quite special.

And I cannot finish typing this without mentioning the framing shops.  They were just as intriguing as the art themselves.  I love when people enjoy showcasing the work they do - and they did it well here in Dafen.

Much of the writing you'll see about Shenzhen is all about getting in, getting your knock-off needs and getting out again a.s.a.p. While there is no doubt in the world these people love to shop, it's nice to discover something just a little bit different every now and then.

I've also started treating myself to at least one adventure per week. Last weekend was all about Dafen, and this weekend will have me hiking from Dongchong to Xichong beach and I couldn't me more excited! Stay tuned ...

Sunday 9 September 2012

Checking In

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Dafen Village, Shenzhen, China

Hello world! I thought it was about time I checked in to give ya'll a bit of an update on life over here. Coming into this adventure with no real expectations for the city or the job, I can now safely tell you ... it still isn't what I expected.

I reflected a bit already on my initial thoughts of the city, and so far that hasn't changed much. Though we've been here for over 3 weeks, I still haven't had a huge amount of time to explore. I'm working on doing so bit by bit, so hopefully I can show you a bit more of the city soon.

As for the job ... I'm still deciding. I love the variety that teaching provides. Absolutely no two days are the same, and that strongly appeals the routine loathing side of me. And the kids seem pretty cool so far, if not a bit blank stare-y when I try and throw a few jokes around - super awkwardly, of course.  However I'm also pulling 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week with planning and prepping and what-not. Not cool. But I'm optimistic for a turn around (it's only been 7 days after all, and I'm very new to this) and as long as I can get (and stay) ahead of the curve in planning, I think I may be able to keep my sanity and start exploring! Fingers crossed guys, fingers crossed.

On a lighter note, last night brought us to the annual teachers day banquet dinner which included a feast dinner of about 23 courses (I'm not joking), performances by each group in attendance (administration, admissions, teachers, guards, drivers - you name it), and a trip to KTV aka private room karaoke - china style. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of photo evidence that isn't either a) incriminating to fellow staff members or b) showcasing the school name (something I am not interested in broadcasting - fyi).  However know this - it was a great night filled with a lot of fun, laughter and baijiu shots (local moonshine type disgustingness).

All in all, it's been a great experience so far ... but it definitely feels like just the beginning!

Stay tuned ...


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