This fall I went to upstate NY and got to photograph a crew race. I am working on my photography skills and, in particular, my ability to document the mood and action of the moment. Let me know what you think. vkanephotoessaylowQ Advertisements
I promised my friends I would post this recipe for a wonderful challah bread and so here it is….
This recipe makes two LARGE loaves (feeding 8 to 10 people each loaf). I would say cut the recipe in half but that is not easy to do and the bread is somewhat labor intensive. Instead I prefer to make the full recipe and then stick the extra baked bread in the freezer. Thawed and warmed it is wonderful with supper, or make french toast, or just enjoy toasted with jam and tea on a winter afternoon.
This recipe is from a great cookbook: A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman
Sponge Starter – (30 to 90 minutes ahead – longer wont hurt)
1.5 Cups warm water
2 Tbsp dry yeast
Approximately 2 Cups flour (the original recipe calls for bread flour, I used unbleached white)
All of the sponge starter
0.5 Cups warm water
0.75 Cup sugar (I used a little less than half a cup so it wouldn’t be so sweet)
3.5 teaspoons salt
3 egg, at room temperature, plus one egg yolk
0.5 cup vegetable oil
6 to 6.5 cups flour of your choice
Egg Wash Topping –
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (I used the left over egg white from above plus one whole egg and it worked fine)
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar if desired
sesame or poppy seeds if desired
In a very large bowl, mix the warm water and dry yeast. Allow the mixture to stand for a couple of minutes to let the yeast swell and dissolve. Stir in the flour to make a soft, thick, pudding/ pancake batter like mixture. Cover the sponge with a damp tea towel and leave still in a WARM place for 30 to 60 minutes. If you see the sponge is rising beyond the limits of the bowl during its fermentation period, stir it down and then let it continue to sit for allotted time.
Stir down the spongy mixture in the work bowl, then add the rest of the water, the sugar, salt,eggs, yolk, oil and about 5 cups of the flour (If you are using a mixer with a dough hook, stir down the sponge and put it into the work bowl of the mixer to add all ingredients). Mix until it is a messy mass, not smooth. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes (this allows the dough to relax; it changes its character by absorbing the flour better. It will be a lot easier to manage in the end.) After this rest period, knead the dough (by hand or the mixer with a dough hook) until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 to 15 minutes, adding more flour as required to make a dough that is easy to handle (not too sticky or tacky).
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel. Let it rise in a draft free, warm environment. In the winter I turn my oven on to 150F and then turn it off during the last mix and rest. Then I put the bowl of dough in the oven with the door shut to stay warm. ***Plan A**Let it rest until it has almost doubled in size, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. OR ***Plan B**** You can let it rise overnight in the refrigerator. When the dough has risen, whisk together the ingredients for the egg wash.
Gently deflate the dough. Divide it in half for 2 loaves. Form the dough into loaves, braided or loaf style or rolls. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet (the parchment really is important). Cover with a damp tea towel until doubled, about 45 to 90 minutes. Then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds if desired. The egg wash is what gives it the lovely brown color.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the bread in the oven and then reduce the heat to 350F and bake until the bread is medium brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes for smaller loaves and 45 minutes for larger loaves. If it starts to brown too much too early cover the top loosely with foil or parchment paper. When done cooking cool on the pan for 10 minutes and then move to a cooling rack. Slice when the bread reaches room temperature to avoid crumbling (if you can wait that long!!)
Today I saved a life, but I don’t know if he will thank me much. I was in the grocery store and this guy flipped himself out of the tank onto the floor next to me. I alerted a worker who promptly scooped him up and put him back in the tank. He seemed to be giving me the evil eye from within those murky waters.
Just another day of grocery shopping in China.
We went to Nepal to visit with our dear friend, a young Nepali man (IL) who lived with us for almost a year in the USA ten years ago. He lived with us when he was 17. He is now 27, married, and has a beautiful 2 year old son. He came from a village about 100km outside Kathmandu, but a lifetime away. Betrawati is a sleepy, beautiful village where the friendships and family ties run deep over many generations. Before he came to the USA he had been to Kathmandu at least once, but never outside Nepal. He did not grow up with running water in his house, reliable electricity, indoor plumbing of any kind. They cooked (and still cook) on a wood fire built at the base of a earthen clay ‘stove’ and all slept together in the loft over the kitchen. The kitchen ceiling is black cinder from years of smoke and heat from cooking. The menu is dal baht (rice and lentil broth), milk tea, and yogurt made from the milk of the water buffalo who resides across the dirt road. She is milked every morning at 5:30am so there will be time to boil the milk and prepare the tea and start the yogurt for that day. No leftovers allowed, there is no refrigeration. Any scraps go back to feed the water buffalo.
Over the years the family was able to save money and built an extension on the house which has two rooms downstairs and four small rooms upstairs. Still no running water inside or reliable electricity. We slept upstairs in the addition on beds with thin futons and windows that looked out to the rice paddies that came right up to the back of the house. On either side were a collection of four or five houses all of which belonged to the extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins all share the chores of daily life.
A typical day is to rise with the sun, have milk tea when it’s ready, do your chores, wash up, eat dal baht at around 9am and head to school for the 10am start. No busses, everyone walks. School is out at 4 and everyone walks home together. Children change quickly out of school uniforms into their play clothes, do homework, chores, and congregate on the front patio/dining room/laundry line to play games. Adults are finishing chores and the women are preparing dinner, dal baht. Then it is time to wash the dishes by the tap next to the out house. Into the darkness the children play. Then around 8:30 people head off to bed.
The land was very dry and surprisingly soft, and dusty. Since the roads were, for the most part, not paved, there was an huge amount of dust in the air.
Bathing, at least for the women, meant walking down to a cousins house in the morning where they have a tap that is about four feet off the ground and the water falls onto a slab of rock about 2×3 feet. The water is still cold from its journey down through the mountain stream. It only runs until 9am and then is diverted to the rice paddies, so get there early. It is about six feet off the road where people are walking to work and children are going to do chores or go to school.
I was at a total loss of how exactly to accomplish bathing in this set up with any kind of modesty. My wonderful host’s wife (PL) guided me like I was a giant, befuddled child. She told me: Bring your soap, shampoo, clean clothes, and a very small towel. Also bring your ‘washing gown’ which is something like a strapless beach coverup that ties around your chest to keep it secure. Once you have the gown on you shimmy out of your clothes and wash, wearing the gown.( It becomes very wet and clings in all the wrong places.) When you are done and rinsed you hop across a few rocks to the front porch of the adjacent house where you use the tiny towel to dry off and then shimmy into dry clothes while trying not to get them soaking wet from the bathing gown. (All this while trying not to notice the people walking by on the road.) PL was so kind and understanding and patient with me. And I knew it was this or face another few days of total griminess.
To get to school there are bridges made of steel cables with metal slats across the bottom. These bridge/walkways are wide enough to walk single file and are strung across a wide and powerful river which flows from a glacier up in the mountains. We were introduced to a favorite game -walk out to the middle of the river, hold tightly to the cable railing, and lean out over the edge as far as you dare and then just stare at the raging water rushing below you. You lose all sense of yourself as a person standing on a bridge and really do feel like you are flying. Our host, IL, told us they did this often as kids. I can totally see why, but as a parent it would scare me to death.
In this village the women still hike into the mountains to collect the grasses they need to feed the water buffalo. Everyone knows everyone. The warmth and deep sense of community far outweighed any lack of modern conveniences. My kids were enthralled and both vowed to come back to work in the school so that they could live among this wonderful family for more than just a few days.
I just returned from a week in Nepal. We travelled to several areas, all of which had their own unique character. This post just shows Kathmandu, the capitol of Nepal. Kathmandu was ancient, beautiful, filthy, chaotic, hot, dusty, delicious, poverty stricken, friendly, gracious, corrupt. It felt like the opening scenes in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ movie had come to life, minus the Arabs and the cleaned up disneyesque part. I will write more, but for now I hope you enjoy the pictures.
If you wish to see a larger version of the pictures, just click on them.
This week has been window washing week at my apartment complex. I have seen lots of window washers dangling from ropes all over the city.
But this week gave me a chance to get a close up look at the bravery (and relative lack of safety precautions) of China’s window washers. Click on the pictures to get a better view.
I saw a poster at a local high end hotel which caters to expats. It was all in English and said that a British comedy troupe was coming to do their version of ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ I was really excited as my kids LOVE that show and my friends birthday is coming up. It sounded like a perfect night out.
The poster showed two ways to make reservations. First, you could email them. But I always feel that an email reservation request goes into this internet black hole and if it’s something I really want or need I want to be able to click ‘confirm’ and know I have it. The second choice was to call. I have become really good at asking people, in Chinese, if they speak English. So when the phone was answered by a very perky young woman in Chinese I was not deterred. I asked ‘Ni shuo yingwen ma?’ Right away she switched to English and asked how she could help me. I explained I needed to know if tickets were still available for the comedy show. The conversation went something like this:
me: Are there tickets available for the ‘whose line’ comedy show this saturday?
her: Which restaurant to you want to make reservations ?
me: I want to find out about tickets to the ‘whose line’ show.
her: Whose reservations?
me: There is a comedy show at the hotel this saturday, ‘whose line is it anyway’. I want to know if there are any tickets left.
her: Comedy show? Please hold while I get someone to help me………
cue hold muzak
her helper (HH): Yes, can I help you?
me: Yes I would like to know if there are tickets to the comedy show this saturday.
HH: How many rooms do you want to reserve?
me: I dont want any rooms, I want tickets to the show.
HH; What show?
me: (now getting frustrated) The comedy show, ‘whose line is it anyway’ . I want to reserve tickets to the comedy show.
HH: You want to make corporate reservations? You want a ballroom?
me: No, thank you. I will call back.
Who needs to go to a comedy show when my life is just one big Abbott and Costello routine? LOL
These are the days I am especially glad that we do not live in Beijing where the air is thick with what the Chinese lovingly call ‘fog’. The fog in Beijing is thick and often yellowish and prevents you from seeing for more than a block at a time.
In Shanghai we do get actual fog, along with it’s cousins smog and haze. Usually these nasty days are no more than two in a row. But this week has been oppressive. It’s what my parents would have called soupy. The kind of days my mother would lovingly cut up fruit and put it on a plate with a scoop of cottage cheese and serve it for dinner, because only crazy people turn on a stove or oven in this weather.
Occasionally big, fat drops of rain hit my arms as I am walking and I think ‘ ahhh, at last the rain will come and clear this weather away’. But no. It lingers on and on. I have mentioned before that Mao, in his great wisdom, decided that anything below the Yangtze River didn’t get central heat. Now I have learned that they didn’t get air conditioning either! Truthfully this lack of power sucking machinery probably helps the air quality. But I think I may be making up for it with all the laundry I have to do since all four of us can soak through two shirts a day each. My saving grace has been that our apartment does have AC which I use liberally at night.
Last night, however, we were out until about 10:30. The kids were home without us and spent a quiet evening with pizza and a movie. The AC was on low. We came home and went to bed. This morning I opened the curtain to our living room sliding glass doors that go out to the balcony and found quite a shock. The doors are double paned and the outer pane of one of the doors was shattered! There was a definite point of origin, as if the door had been shot with a BB gun. Thank goodness it was safety glass so the pane was still in the door.
I went outside to feel if there was a hole at the origin point, but there wasn’t. All the patio furniture was exactly as I had left it and it wasn’t a windy night the night before. The kids adamantly denied being outside or doing anything that would cause the door to break.
I went to the management office to tell them about the door. I was really worried they would blame us and we would be footing the bill. They sent up a building ‘engineer’ and he took one look at it and told me not to worry, it was from the heat!!!!
My suspicion, and most unscientifically proven hypotheses, is that the seal between the panes is not great and moisture got in and expanded as the day got hotter and hotter, finally being too much for the glass and shattering it.
So when some people say ‘it’s so hot I could fry an egg on the sidewalk” I will say ‘it’s so hot it could shatter a patio door!’
Spring is a time for new beginnings, and for endings.
This year D turned 15 and has hit her full adolescent stride. Always independant, living in a city whcih gives her full access to a metro system, taxis, friends who live in far corners of the city, and an endless list of weird and wonderful things to do -she has taken it all by storm. If she were a surfer she would be up at the crest of a large wave, sunshine glinting off the water and her hair, admiring the beautiful view below her. Sometimes finding the balance between school and sports and social life is hard, but she faces that challenge head on.
S2 is 17, almost 18, and finishing high school. He has finished the college application process and chosen a school which I, but more importantly he, believes is a good match. He has also decided to take a gap year and stay in Shanghai with us so he can study Manderin for another year at a local university. Even with all of this decided he is still suffering from that most awful of adolescent traumas – senioritis mixed with angst. The angst is four fold. First is the feeling of leaving a school system that has consumed their entire lives. Each year brought a new grade and new classes but the sameness of the bus schedule, lunch with friends, after school activities, then home to do homework, was incredibly comforting. The second part stems from that deep seeded feeling that most, I think, teenagers have because they believe that the major they pick for college will determine the professional direction of their entire lives with no possibility of change. I am the model of change and reinvention for careers and have tried to point this out, but I am the mom – what do I know?? The third layer on top of all this angst is the sense of belonging or not belonging. He came to China just for his last year of high school, leaving all of his friends back in the north east. He didn’t think he would mind graduating from a different school, but as the days approach I think he does feel he is missing out on a bonding experience with those kids. (His totally amazing band leader from the USA has agreed to let S2 play in the school band at graduation. S2 is really excited about being part of the day). The last, and perhaps biggest hurdle, is the emotional house of mirrors he seems to live in due to Aspergers. He has a great deal of trouble self identifying emotions and the situations that bring them on. He is generally not comfortable with strong emotions of any kind. It is almost like he wants to crawl out of his skin when he feels very happy or sad. And afterwords he often cannot express or identify what made him happy, sad, angry etc. Usually kids like being happy and look back on the experiences of the day and make a mental note somewhere in their psyche that X = happy therefore repeat X and Y = sad therefore do not repeat Y. S2 has not mastered this concept, but he is working very hard to. In the mean time he rides his own surfing wave. On his ride he seems to ride many tall waves that come in quick succession. One moment he is at the crest enjoying the sunshine and the next he is in the trough feeling the chill of the shadow over him which comes from the next looming wave. He knows if he can climb back up to the top of the wave it will be warm and sunny, but it’s a hell of a lot of work to do that and he doesn’t always have the mental or physical energy to get there on his own. Sometimes he seems to have his surfboard clipped by the crashing wave, sending him tumbling headlong into the dark water and desperately trying to figure out which way is up before he runs out of air. Even with all of this he tries and tries again. I hope he knows how proud I am of him.
S1 is riding his surf board with grace and agility. He is becoming his own man. He has just finished his third year at college and will be starting an internship this summer to help him clarify what he wants to do when he graduates. He has a great girlfriend and they seem very supportive of each other. He still flounders on his board sometimes and then my instinct is to go running and save him, as any good lifeguard would do. This can be – ok, often is- a source of friction between us. For S1 I need to learn to lay back and wait to be called.
My husband and I are the lifeguards at this wild beach. We have our own long boards which we desperately paddle out into the rough waters to pull, push, prod – whatever it takes- in order to bring them into shore safely. But I am getting old for surfing. My body struggles to pop up to standing and find a sense of balance. I struggle with my own board and yet would give my life to save their lives. Most of the time they seem absolutely oblivious to the fact that there are other people (parents, teachers, family, friends) running to them, circling them with life rings and other safety nets. They may grab one and be towed safely to shore, but in words and attitude seem to believe they swam there themselves. But every once in a while they look up and around and not only see but acknowledge the other people around them. I am determined to stand vigil on this beach, watching the wild waves roll in and my beautiful children call ‘look mom, no hands!!’.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you standing on your beach!
I have just finished having a string of wonderful guests and am looking forward to S1 and his girlfriend coming to visit soon. We will all celebrate S2’s high school graduation. Then I will fly back to the USA to spend some glorious weeks with family and friends. This will mark the halfway point of my sojourn in Shanghai. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone.
After a cold and dreary winter my best friend came to visit me! We have been planning it for so long (I think first discussions, over tea and cookies, happened before I even had plane tickets to come here in the first place!). Our time together was amazing.
Saying her flight here was delayed is an understatement. She took off from a major US east coast airport only to hear the captain announce, after some time in the air, that all but two bathrooms had failed and they had to return to the and would need to change planes. So after leaving home at 6:30am she finally took off at about 5:30pm for the 14 hour flight to Shanghai. Even after all that she was ready to go on every crazy adventure I had planned. On our first day out, among other things, we wandered through ‘old town’ which is partly truly old and partly built/rebuilt to look old. But none the less it is quite nice and busteling with a frenetic mix of tourist traps, local businesses, and the damp alleys leading to quiet by-ways taken by the Shanghainese and tourists who are lost or …..well, lost. But I have wandered these streets many times and have found the noodle man dependably parked on the corner. His three wheeled bike cart carries his entire livelihood. His propane cooker, all his prepped vegetables, noodles, sauce, giant beach umbrella, and tarp to block the wind. The menu choice involves spicy or not spicy. Other than that you get a generous portion of noodles stir fried with a mix of fresh vegetables. The dining room is two preschool sized tables with a few foot stools to serve as chairs. We ordered our noodles with a request of ‘a little spicy’ and were directed to sit. A few minutes later we had a delicious lunch under a tarp. Bellies full we headed to the ferry and enjoyed our sunny ride across the Huangpu River. On the other side we went up the Pearl Tower and took in the view of the city as the sun set and the city lit up. We had been walking all day and had seen many things. We were tired but our ticket in the Pearl included a museum tour on the ground floor. I had heard it was good and we wanted to get our moneys worth so we decided to take a look. We wandered the halls and looked at the displays. They were OK, but not especially wonderful and we were tired. We decided to find the way out. Alas, the museum was a one way hall that meandered in a most frustrating way. We were getting punchy and felt like we were trapped in Dante’s 9 circles of hell. The wax figures stared at us unblinkingly. The miniature dioramas started to seem ridiculous. We were giggling like school girls. Finally, stumbling out of the museum we took the metro home and collapsed. It was so wonderful to see the city through her eyes.
Her last night here another dear friend, who is also one of my husband’s co-workers, came to town. All four of us went out to dinner at a great restaurant called M on the Bund. The food was great, the view spectacular, and the company unbeatable. After dinner we strolled out on the Bund river walk and enjoyed the cool evening watching the ships float by. The week ended too quickly.
The next day my husband’s parents arrived. They had been touring China for 12 days and had seen Beijing, Xian, Wuhan, Changqing, the Three Gorges, the Yangzi River. They throughly enjoyed their tour but it was time for a rest and a quiet visit. Shifting gears I continued as tour guide. This time we took gentle walks through the local park, Century Park. We went out to the kids’ school and they had a chance to look around there. We went to a small water town that lies within the city limits called Qibao. The town holds a collection of small tourist sites but largely still remains a town where people live and work and go to school. This was a real treat since they had had the ‘tourist’ view of China. Qibao gave them a chance to see China outside of the regular tourist beat or expat bubble. Another highlight was taking them to one of my favorite spots, Lu Xun Park, about which I have written before.
Alas, another busy week came to an end. And here we are preparing for one son’s visit and another’s graduation. As the summer heat starts to roll in I can feel the pull back to the east coast of another continent. See you all soon!! 😀