Sunday 30 December 2012

Wide Angle: vol. 4

Pin It It's been a busy couple of weeks (okay, more like months) since I've been able to post regularly, some of it interesting, some of it not so much (grading essays is so much more time consuming than grading math tests).  To give you an idea of what's been happening on a more behind-the-scenes level, I present to you another installment of Wide Angle, a casual look at my day-to-day ... captured on my iphone.

I have a lot of stories and posts in the works to catch up on from the last couple of months, and even more beyond that based on the next couple months (we're in the midst of our big travel time over here). I'm going to try and keep it in sequence and ignore that it's actually Christmas and New Years holiday, and show you some photos as far back as Hallowe'en. Just roll with it. And so, in light of the fact that it is the holiday and I'm sitting in a hotel room in Hanoi, I'm going to move right on the photos now.

1. Ask and I will deliver - this is what the Ikea sign looks like in China.
2. I can't resist the colours on these shoes! I smile everytime I look down.
3 & 4. Hallowe'en - 1 dress, 2 ways. #3 is my representation of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and #4 is Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame. The kids in the elementary half of the school still call Ms. Frizzle more often than not. I'm totally okay that association.
5 & 6. My very frist trip to Hong Kong involved leaving the boys at home and heading over for a day of shopping and seeing. These two are taken on the way to (#5) and at (#6) Stanley / Stanley Market. A pituresque portion of Hong Kong that feels very un-Hong Kong.  The best part is grabbing a drink or some eats along the water, and the shopping ain't bad either! Note: it's market style, occasional haggling accepted, so places have clearly fixed prices. Generally if it's marked it's fixed, if it's not, it's not!
7 & 8. I had the opportunity to go to a conference in Beijing, which was my first (and so far, only) time there.  It was a brisk in and out trip, but I did manage to make it to the old market (#7) where I indulged in some snacks of the creepy crawly variety (#8). More specifically I sampled the scorpion (after some serious pep talk from some complete strangers), and I have to say that it was actually quite good, crunchy with a nice smoky BBQ flavour. In fact, I ate two.

And there you have it, a small glimpse into what's been happening in my day to day recently. It's been a pleasure communicating with you more regularily after such a long break - fingers crossed it continues!

Until next time!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter "Pie"

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Ever wonder what happens when you move to China, don’t speak the language, and then contract a wicked virus like pneumonia? Yeah, neither did I. 

But I can now tell you, because it happened to Other Half, and it wasn’t fun. At all. What started as an innocent cough, quickly escalated into some wild inflammation in the lungs, which led to weeks of exhaustion, a lot of missed classes and too many trips to a Chinese hospital to receive antibiotics via IV twice daily. Slowly, slowly he’s coming around to the healthy side of life, but with a too heavy work load, an environment that’s more polluted than the body is used to, it hasn’t been easy. What a trooper, he deserves a cake, no? Well lucky for him, not only did he pull through like a champ, he also had a birthday, which means double reason for cake! Yay!

Traditionally when it’s Other Half’s Birthday I would bake him up something gooey and sweet that involved chocolate and peanut butter.  Without access to a proper oven, it was time to get creative.  I still managed to pull off the gooey, the sweet, the peanut butter, and the chocolate with just a little ingenuity and some vague memories of no bake classics. After all, a Birthday isn’t a Birthday without some cake!

Cake is perhaps a bit of an overstatement here, it was really more of a… pie? Ish? It had two layers, that I know for sure, but neither of them were traditional cake, or pie.  Working with what I had on hand and access to (which we know isn’t much) I sort of dreamed up this concoction and hoped for the best.

To start we have a layer of pseudo no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookie, and then we add a layer of whipped peanut butter creaminess. Combined it made a decadent, and rather delicious (if I do say so myself) Birthday treat.

If I were to make this again I would adjust a few amounts of certain things here and there (which is how I’m presenting the recipe below – adjustments made) as I found the bottom chocolate layer a bit too wet, and the top layer could have used a more traditional icing sugar (didn’t have).  

At the very least, China is forcing some creativity out of me, and if the results are like this, then I'm not complaining!

Chocolate Peanut Butter "Pie"
all measurements are approximate as this was a very little-bit-of-this-little-bit-of-that recipe!

For the base:
1 1/2 cups of oats
1/4 cup of whipping cream
1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup butter

For the topping:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
 1/2 cup of whipping cream
1/3 cup icing sugar

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat melt the butter and add in cream, sugar and vanilla
  2. Stir in cocoa powder, when combined, mix in oats and cook for a couple minutes until softened
  3. Pour mixture into a greased pie plate - spread evenly and place in refrigerator while preparing the topping
  4. In a medium bowl, using either a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip the cream and icing sugar until you have a light whipped cream texture (will take a few minutes)
  5. Fold in the peanut butter to the whipped cream mixture until fully combined
  6. Spread evenly over the base layer and refrigerate until both layers have set (about 1 hour)
  7. Enjoy!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

When life blocks you from the internet... make salad.

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Oooooh boy! It’s been awhile… Sometimes I forget that we’re living in China.  When daily life gets overwhelmingly busy and I don’t have much time to do anything other than work and prepare for work the next day, it’s like I could be living anywhere in the world. Then I’ll try and do something totally normal like use Google, write on my blog, and stalk my friends on Facebook, and I’m blocked from all of it. All. Of. It.  And I’m frustrated back into reality.  I’m having a blast here in China, but there are many things that show themselves as the reality of life here and I have to remember that sometimes ignorance is bliss.  We’re slowly getting the use of certain tools back that allow us to work around the firewalls here on the mainland, and so hopefully I’ll be able to get into a routine again. Hopefully. (note: I’m not always blocked from using Google, but for reference it is blocked about 85% of the time). 

But I'm back now, temporarily at least, and I have lots of lit bits and pieces to share with you! I'll hopefully be able to continue with some semi-regular posting and life sharing, hooray! Let's have a celebratory salad... yes, salad. A nice, fresh, simple salad. Ah bliss.

While one reality is living behind a virtual iron curtain, another reality of living here is the fact that people don’t seem to cook food without an inch of oil in the bottom of the pan.  It’s not greasy, it’s oily. For the first time, I understand the difference, and so do my innards.  It’s time for salad.  I’ve craved salad before, but never like I do here.  Fresh foods are often considered quite sketchy, organic foods (if you can find them) are generally about as organic as that Channell bag is Chanel and if you even go near an article written about the farming and inspection practices in the newspaper you’ll want to eat nothing but imported soda crackers for the rest of your life.  Needless to say, fulfilling the salad craving isn’t always easy. Slowly, with time we’ve learned where to shop, what to trust, and what to turn a blind eye too. 

And so it is that this salad, while simple, was borne from weeks of planning and searching for various ingredients.  Never has so much pre-work gone into a couscous salad. I’m certain of it.  Happily, this turned out to be exactly what I needed.  It was fresh, it was crisp, it was refreshing.  My body rejoiced after this one.

There is nothing earth shatteringly new about this recipe.  In fact it’s a very simple couscous salad that uses minimal ingredients and requires only a few steps easy steps, but the result is a highly flavourful, healthy salad.  Oily innards beware!

Mediterranean Couscous Salad 

Approximately 1 – 1.5 cups cooked couscous
200g feta cheese, cubed
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ of a small cucumber, diced
1 can French Lentils, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ tsp ground white pepper
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
salt to taste

1.     Combine the couscous, feta, tomatoes, cucumber and lentils in a medium bowl
2.     Add the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly
3.     Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving to allow flavours to meld


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