Category Archives: Cooking

Challah – bread of life













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)

Dough –

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!!)



Betrawati village, Nepal


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.

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What was that food? Answers to 3.0 challenge


So this is the day you have all been waiting for!  The big reveal…

What is that strange thing she is eating in China???

First, I have to tell you that I loved all your guesses.  The meatball smuggling Sicilian definitely wins for creativity!!  And the food is not nearly as strange as others give me credit for.  Although I do have to confess that I never, ever would have tried it if a friend hadn’t explained it to me and assured me that it was good and safe to eat.  Your guesses even taught me something.  One guess was about a Mexican fruit called a ‘granada’.  I wasn’t sure if this entry was just a joke but I decided to check it out.  It turns out that there is a fruit called a granada and a close relative called a China granada which are both related to the pomegranate and both related to this mystery food.

Granada china: golden passion fruit or granadilla (Passiflora ligularis)
Sometimes incorrectly translated as “passion fruit” because it is related, the granada china does not taste much like a true passion fruit, although its unique flavor and consistency are much prized by aficionados, who call it “the caviar of fruits.” An egg-shaped fruit with a hard yellow-orange “shell” is cut open to reveal a soft, grayish pulp, which is eaten right out of the shell with a spoon. Despite the hard outer skin, it is more perishable than most other tropical fruit, and is generally not used in ice cream and other confections. Granada china can be tested for ripeness by shaking it for the sound of the ripe flesh moving inside.

This mystery food is the PASSION FRUIT.

Yes, really.  It is a flavor that is widely used in western food but I had never seen it in it’s natural state before.  The flavor is really good but super intense and sour like a sour patch kid.  The best way to eat it is to cut it open, dip a spoon in a little honey and use that spoon to scoop out the fruit and eat it up.

I guess it just goes to show that you never know what you will run into, and taking risks can have quite delicious rewards 😀

Mystery Food Challenge 3.0


Ok, here’s the latest installment of “What is it and would you eat it??”  Also, “what do you do with it once you’ve figured out what it is??”

This week’s food is a little smaller than a clementine (or about the size of a squash ball for my sports fans).

It looks like a giant cousin to the puff balls we all found in the woods as kids.

It has a brown/greenish skin/shell which is VERY tough and must be cut carefully with a very sharp knife.

Inside the skin/shell is a layer of white pith.

Inside the pith layer is a yellow slimy center that looks like raw egg yolk.

Mixed in with the ‘egg yolk’ are clear/green seeds that look sort of like fish eggs and are about the size of a pomegranate seed and are crunchy in the same way too.

I have actually eaten this so I can tell you that it sort of tastes like a sour patch kid, except crunchy.

Scoop out the whole center and enjoy, right??

What do you think?

A Weird and Wonderful Day


I don’t even know where to begin except to tell you that this kind of day happens less often than I would like but more than you can imagine.  And every time it does I think ‘oh I should write about this!’ but somehow the time slips away.  So today I came in the door, put the necessary things away and got out my computer because you are not going to believe this!

This morning started with a pretty good workout at the gym which I totally needed. Ever  since I have discovered there is actually a great French (really managed and chef) bakery my waist line has been in grave danger!  They actually make phenomenal sour dough bread which I have not had in ages. All I can say is OMG!

Anyway, after a quick shower it was off to my monthly book club meeting.  I was contemplating skipping the meeting since I had not finished the book and really wasn’t fond of it.  But I like the people in the group and I figured what the heck, I can see them, have some coffee and maybe be convinced of why I should take the time to finish this book.  My friend M and I shared a ride.  We allowed 45 minutes for a trip that google maps said should take 25.  We figured if we were early we could wander a new neighborhood and explore a little.   I have to confess that one of the reasons I really love the book club is that we rotate meeting at various homes.  This gives me a chance to be nosy and see other peoples apartments and also new areas of the city.  We figured we had given ourselves plenty of time since rush hour should be well over by 9:45a.m.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…..It is cold and raining today which means that people who would normally walk or bike are now taking cars or any available taxi.  The roads were absolutely packed.  Like gridlock in many areas.  As we got closer we realized we were already 15 minutes late and wondered again if we should just bag it.  But moments later the car pulled up to the apartment building.  It was not a remarkable building and definitely not in a glamorous neighborhood.  We rode the elevator up to the apartment which was near the top floor of the 40ish story building.  Once again, OMG.

Can you say palace??  Tastefully decorated but still….  The place was amazing.  There were crystal chandeliers and glass cases with silver service pieces….I asked our hostess how long she had lived in Shanghai.  She told me they had just arrived in August, the same as me, but had lived in Asia for over 25 years.  We sat and had coffee and a great discussion about the book.  I may even finish it 🙂  After book club was done our hostess was leaving for an exercise class and someone asked where it was held.  She took us to another room to look out that window so we could see the building where the class was held.  It was then that I realized we had been in the ‘public space’ of the apartment and now were in the private quarters.  Each area being as big or bigger than my entire apartment, which at about 200 sq. meters is not small.  Our hostess saw the look on my face and said “yeah I know it’s kind of over the top, but we have to do a lot of entertaining of dignitaries since my husband is the Consulate General.”  OK, knock me over with a feather !  She is so sweet and kind.  I think I would have imagined someone much stuffier to fill this job.

As we looked out the window toward the gym it started to snow.  For my friends in the northeast USA this may not seem like a big deal, but it is the first – and maybe only- snow we will have this year.  It lasted about 20 minutes with real white flakes that drifted and swirled in the air.  And then melted into cold puddles on the ground 😦

Snow as seen from my friend's window.







Back in the car and traffic had settled down.  I went to pick up a couple of pictures that I had framed.  In an alley off of a small street, behind a noodle shop, is a man who can work magic with frames, glass, and matts. I never would have found him except a friend recommended him.  Much of China’s domestic economy works by word of mouth and friendships.  If they ever allow Facebook here it will take off like wild fire since it is based on the same kind of networking – called guanxi (said goo-an-shee) here.  So I had one 5×7 and two small poster sized pieces framed with mats and glass and it cost all of $30 US.  And he does a beautiful job.

more snow 🙂





Next stop was the restaurant supply building.  I saw this building early in our days here in Shanghai and was confounded by the sign outside.  It says in large red letters “HOTEL THING CONFLUENCE”.  What??  I had no idea what it was and didn’t have the language skills to ask.

Only recently did I figure out how to get there and went exploring.  They have everything!  They make uniforms, chair slip covers.  They have dishes, glassware, pots you could bathe in, mixers made to blend dough for a thousand buns……

I was in search of something to keep my teapot warm.  You must understand that in China, as in much of Asia,  they do not heat many areas at all, and then when they do use heat it is only in the rooms they are currently in.  My apartment has heat that I use when I am home.  And, by Chinese standards, it stays pretty warm. But even so the heat from things seems to get sucked out into the air pretty fast.  At the store I found these round pieces of granite that are on a raise stand with a small cup like candle holder under them.  The stone has a metal band around the edge with handles on the sides.  In my limited Chinese I tried to ask the man if I was supposed to put the stone in the oven first to heat it up since it didn’t seem like a candle would heat the stone up and keep something on top warm.  He said no, just put the thing in the little cup.  I took a leap of faith and said ok, I would buy it and give it a try. I figured I could always stick it in the oven if I needed to.  Then I asked him if he had the things (not knowing the word for candles) that go in the little cup.  He said ‘sure’, ok he actually said ‘dui’ but he meant sure,  and walked over to a cardboard box.  I expected him to pull out a big bag of tea light candles.  Much to my surprise the box was full of small paint cans, about two pint size, with solid black paper wrapped around the outside. Not over a label.  The solid black paper was the label.  The top was some kind of compressed cardboard.  He told me to just put a little in the cup.  Ohhhkayyy……

Back at home I opened the can and found what looked sort of like sterno in the can.  I used a plastic spoon to scoop some out and put it in the little cup.  I thought if the spoon melted by touching the goop it would be my first warning not to use it.  The spoon stayed intact.  The next test was how flammable the goop actually was.  With a small amount safely in the cup I moved all flammable objects far away and placed the cup in the middle of the kitchen island.  I lit the match and touched it to the goop, ready to jump back to the waiting fire extinguisher.  A small blue flame appeared and it burned nicely, just like sterno.  I put the stone over the top and let it sit there.  It did actually heat up!

My tea pot staying warm on my new stone. The black can of mystery goop in the background

I made myself a pot of ginger tea and set it on my new hot stone.




I don’t know how many days I will move from the height of luxury to the alleys and warehouse store rooms of a city, but it sure does make life interesting 😀

Christmas in Shanghai: It is coming and we are All getting fat (not just the goose!)


Living in Shanghai is all about the food.  Yes I am in China.  And yes there are definitely food safety concerns (salad is a rarity – mostly cooked veggies for us).  But the international, metropolitan, critical mass aspect of the city makes it a food mecca for anyone wanting to do a world tour and never leave a single city.  Not only are there Chinese citizens living here from, I am guessing, all 56 ethnic groups, but there are also expats from every conceivable area of the globe.  And all of us long for the food of our homeland at one time or another.

As I wander the grocery store aisles I find mysterious items with labels that would confound everyone but the most studied linguists.  Swedish, Turkish, Greek, Palestinian, German, French, American, British…….You name it.  But most of these non-Asian foods are crowded together in one small aisle of the grocery store and each culture gets two or three items to choose from.  But this time of year – the convergence of so many winter holidays – makes that selection grow to new and more mysterious heights.

Today I went to the store to get an onion.  One of the most basic cooking items in any culture.  And there it was, front and center with the veggies.  It’s bright white flesh glowing amongst it’s dark green friends.  I chose carefully and could have just paid and left the store.  But no.  I heard the siren song of those mysterious items calling me from the further reaches of the store.  If I have learned anything here in China it is NEVER pass up the opportunity to wander in a grocery store.  Food items come and go and you may not see the same item again for months, or ever.  So if you see it and you think you may want it, get it.  I knew that this store had once had risotto rice (arborio) and my friend J longed for some so I gave in to that sirens call and plowed forward like Veruca Salt in Willie Wonka.  I WANT IT NOW!!!

Wide eyed I wandered up and down the aisles looking for my long lost Risotto.  I was coming near the end of the aisles of dry goods and was starting to give up hope.  My disappointment was pushed aside for a few minutes when I came to the baking section.  No, it did not have the rice, but things more dark and mysterious than I could have ever imagined!  Baking is NOT a typical Asian form of cooking and many, if not most, Asian kitchens do not have ovens.  So I expected all the items in this area to be more familiar to me.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I love to bake and this time of year I long to make doughy breads, crisp ginger bread men with raisin buttons and royal frosting eyes, sugar cookies in all shapes and sizes, and a buche noel with meringue mushrooms to ring in Christmas day.  In this store I found a whole series of shelves dedicated to different flavorings and thought they might be a fun addition to my baking this year.  They had beautifully printed European looking labels with delicate red flowers on the edges.  These label designers must have been peering into my childhood memories when they came up with this label.

One of my favorite memories (and my mother’s worst nightmare) is of my mother’s precious collection of these delicate flavoring bottles.  They were (and still are) quite expensive.  We didn’t have much spare cash when I was little but my mother always loved to bake and the flavorings keep for years.  So over time she would save her pennies and get one or two of these bottles to add to her baking collection.  I knew they were dear to her but I had no idea of the monetary value, just that they were a special thing.  And one winter day, having a friend over and looking for an indoor activity, we decided to be witches and make a brew.  What better to make a brew than 20 little bottles of magic potions, each with it’s own special scent?  So in they all went to a big pot.  We added some potting soil from the rubber tree plant in the living room, some wood shavings from my bird, Roberto’s, cage.  Add in a few threads from a sewing box and a pin from a pin cushion to make it really seem evil,  and stir.  We were so engrossed in our game and sitting on the kitchen counter discussing what special incantations we could say, that we didn’t even see my mom come in.  I am sure you can imagine the ensuing scene.  My mother, God bless her, held it together pretty well while also making it VERY clear that I was NEVER to do such a thing again!  I think the restrained tears on her cheeks made the biggest impression on me.  I felt awful.  I guess she made her point pretty well because that was about 37 years ago and I still remember it clearly 🙂

So, I digress….I shook the distant childhood memories from my brain and started to look carefully at all the different things on the shelf.  The variety of flavors really surprised me.   There were the typical Vanilla, Mint, Almond, Coconut and the more mysterious “Perisa Keladi Yam Flavor”.  I can’t imagine what you would need to add this too.  I would love to find out.

This one is a total mystery.Yam flavor. for candy??? or frosting????Yum, Durian

My attention turned to “Durian Flavor.”  For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a Durian, it is a type of fruit that is a little larger than a large coconut.  It has a green spiky looking shell that you cut open and eat the flesh inside.  The smell is often described as similar to rotting flesh – I kid you not!  After hearing this lovely description I have opted not to try it but I have seen it for sale in many places so obviously it holds some favor with a group of people. (whoever you are DO NOT invite me to dinner the night you have Durian!)  But I can’t imagine buying a flavoring like this.  Can you picture this scene:

Me:  “Hello dear friend, I have brought you some special treats that I made just for you!”

Friend:  “Oh, thank you so much!  How thoughtful.  And they smell so wonderful, just like rotting flesh!”


Just around the corner came the jars of preserved cherries.  In the USA I am used to the ‘marichino’ variety which glow red from their jar.  Here the cherries bloomed in acid green, popsicle blue, tang orange etc. etc.  It was like an ADHD nightmare of food coloring.  Next to the day glow cherries were the coconut sport strings.  But don’t worry, they were preserved in syrup, ready for all your sporting events 🙂  Sitting quietly on the bottom shelf was a bag of Attap seed and lest you feel unsure about the ingredients they were listed quite clearly on the back of the bag, even in English.  But alas, the poor Attap seeds, I don’t know what to do with you so I will leave you to find another home where the cook is more sure of an appropriate recipe to show you off in all your glorious goopy wonderfulness!

Attap seed. They seemed gooey and slightly gelatinous.

Here are the ingredients for the Attap seeds.

Coconut strings for everyone!

Acid Green Cherries

Popsicle blue Cherries

Tang Orange Cherries

Yellow Cherries??

Ok, these I might have to try 🙂

PS.  As a side note, I did find the box of risotto and purchased it for my friend J.  I saw J today and was so excited to give her the rice.  J said she had something for me and pulled out a box from another grocery store – it was a little gingerbread house kit complete with baked house pieces and m&m’s to decorate, even a little gingerbread man to stand outside his home and admire the finished product.  It is these small moments that make Shanghai a wonderful adventure just as much as walking down the alleys and warrens of Chinese shops selling tourist goods and Christmas supplies so plentiful that it looks like someone is trying to recreate Liberace’s home for the holidays. But that story has to be left for Christmas in Shanghai,Part II

My gingerbread house kit!

PPS.  Here is a special find just for my beloved brother in law, B..  I hope you now see that it is truly safe to come to China!

Yes B., my dear brother in law, it is safe for even you to come to China! lol

Thanksgiving in China


Wow, what a crazy few weeks it’s been!

I’ve missed you all.  The pace of life here has picked up considerably for all of us.  The kids are heading into final projects and then final and midterm exams.  Winter break starts on the 17th of December so we really are in the home stretch for them.  S2 has also started taking extra Chinese lessons outside of school.  The focus is learning to read and write in Chinese but I really think it is helping him learn to speak too as this teacher largely makes him communicate with her in Chinese.  My sweet Hubby has also finally started his lessons.  He has a crazy intense schedule where he has private lessons for about five hours a day for five days and then follow up lessons/review with an online program.  Hubby and I have been going to the gym and I have told the people there to only speak to us in Chinese so we will learn more.  They have been great about it and it really does act as a reinforcer of what we learn in class.  Language, like muscles, is a use it or loose it proposition.  D is in mid season for basketball and is loving it.  Sometimes she complains that she doesn’t have enough free time but when I suggest that she not do a sport next season so she can have that free time she balks and looks at me like I have four heads and what exactly were any of them thinking????

S1, if you are reading this, please know we love you lots and miss you lots too!  As far as I can tell he is rolling along with classes and extra curriculars (hopefully more time with the classes!)  He has a very nice  girlfriend that I have only spoken to on Skype and look forward to meeting soon.

I decorated my table with a holiday candle arrangement and beautiful fall leaves courtesy of my Mom

I missed all of you at Thanksgiving and hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  We celebrated in much more of an American fashion than I had expected possible.  We had turkey and ham, Hubby’s corn pudding, roasted root vegetables, D made gram’s challah bread recipe into dinner rolls, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes, mushroom risotto and veggie lasagna for the non meat eaters, green beans with lemon and toasted nuts, and of course lots of pie.  Lest you get the wrong impression, I did not cook all of this myself!  We have a nice sized kitchen at my apartment but my oven is the size of a large microwave.  The fact that I have an oven at all in Asia is a small miracle so I am thankful for what I have, but it is not up to Turkey roasting duty.

The next challenge was finding all the ingredients.

To jump back in time for a moment, my best friends here – M and J- and I all decided to do Thanksgiving together.  Each of us is here with two children so that made 12 people.  At home in the USA cooking for 12 could be a regular thing if all the kids brought friends home, which they did often.  But there I am equipped for the crowd.  Here I own dishes, cups, silver wear etc. for 8.  No serving dishes, food processor, no potato masher, nothing but a knife, a pot, a cutting board, and one saute pan.  Hubby said this year when we asked people to bring a dish, we would have to mean it literally- please bring a dish!

Divide and conquer was the order of the day.  We all decided what foods were special to us and we would make those to share.  But where to get a turkey in China?  In the US I could step out into my front yard and catch one if I really needed to.  But turkeys aren’t exactly roaming the streets of Shanghai.  In fact all the turkeys seem to be imported from the US.  This makes them challenging to find and VERY expensive.  Our 15lb. turkey cost about $80 USD!  Thank goodness we shared the cost among three families.

Once the turkey was secured we started to make a plan to get the rest of the ingredients.  Each of us knew what the others needed so as we made our way around to the myriad of grocery stores, both local and expat, we would call or text eachother excitedly to say we had found canned cranberry sauce, or beets, or canned pumpkin!  Fresh cranberries remained elusive so we did not get to have my mother in law’s spectacular cranberry relish.  When I get back to the US that is on my wish list of foods 🙂

For anyone who is looking for an amazing corn pudding recipe, here is Hubby’s favorite.  It is a great Thanksgiving treat or add it to your potluck recipe file, it re-heats beautifully. Your friends will love it and your arteries will hate it!

12 strips bacon, fried crisp
4 tbsp bacon fat
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, sliced
2 cups fresh corn, mixed with milk, 1 cup, or 2 15 oz cans cream style corn
1 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups light cream
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
preheat oven 375        grease casserole dish
fry bacon,break into small pieces.saute pepper and onion in 4 tbsp bacon fat. add corn , bread crumbs, beaten egg, light cream, salt, pepper and bacon bits.
dot with butter and bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbly. crumbs should be brown.
8-10 servings

It felt like we were playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ with food but it actually made it a pretty festive group effort.  We agreed that anything we couldnt find we would just live without so the pressure was off and it was just fun.  Things were rolling along amazingly well and I thought I had things under control.  I started cooking early Thursday morning.  One of my priorities was getting the root vegetables chopped and par boiled so they would roast in time for dinner.  I got the beets and carrots peeled and chopped.  Next up were the gorgeous turnips I found at a local veggie market.  When I started to peel the first one the flesh looked too wet and grainy, not what I expected at all.  I chopped off a bit and tasted it.  It was the biggest, fattest radish I had ever seen!!  So in true ‘living in Asia’ fashion, I rolled with it and the radish became a fine addition to the veggie platter. It was a classic Shanghai moment.  Just when you think things are easy – they are impossibly hard.  And the things you think will be so hard are easy. Go figure.

In the end there was lots of food and great company.  All the kids really get along well.  In M’s family they make a flat paper cutout of a turkey and individual tail feathers. On the reverse side of two feathers are the words ‘thanks’ and another with ‘giving’.  Everyone writes one thing they are thankful for on a feather (without peeking on the reverse side).  Then, later in the evening it is revealed who got the two special feathers and they get to break the wishbone.  It was a fun game and great to learn someone else’s traditions.  D and M’s daughter made a turkey decoration for our table out of a local pumpkin, a little bit of construction paper, and some beautiful fall leaves that my mom sent my from NY.  I think it’s really cute! They used a fork to punch holes in the ‘but’ of the turkey/pumpkin and stuck the leaf stems in the holes.

Our Pumpkin Turkey

I hope all my friends and family stateside had a wonderful holiday and things aren’t too crazy in preparation for Christmas.  See you all soon!

Answers to the Food Mystery part 2….


You all have made some great guesses and I have loved getting your notes and comments.  Some of you came really close to the right answers but no one was spot on.  So I guess we will have to call it a big tie, which of course means you all are invited to Shanghai!!  Just let me know when you are coming so I can have enough food on hand ::)  In all seriousness, If you ever wanted to see China now is your chance – all you have to do is buy the ticket and come here and you get free room and board.   You really can’t beat that deal.  Plus you can have use of my driver to take you to see the sights.  I hope you take me up on my offer.


Ok, so here are the answers you have all been waiting for!


1.  This is actually a chicken egg.  There is a funny story behind why it looks this way –  Our refrigerator here is a side by side which we have never had before, in fact our ‘fridge at home in the USA  has ‘french doors’ on top.  So one of the kids (neither one will confess to the crime) put the eggs in the freezer!  The next day I found them and they hadn’t cracked.  So I left them in the fridge for another day to ‘thaw’ and then we cracked them open and cooked them, and this is what happened!!  The eggs tasted totally normal but looked really strange 🙂


2.  S2 is holding a very traditional Chinese treat you get on the street.  They are very small apples that have a sweet/tart taste sort of like jolly ranchers.  They are put on the stick (you get about 6 apples to a stick) and the whole thing is dipped in candy apple sugar.  They are delicious!


3.  These are dried ‘tree mushrooms’  they sort of look like little trees from a fairy garden.  I thought they looked like minnows all trying to swim upstream 🙂


4.  Haw, it turns out, is made from the red berries of the hawthorn tree.  I haven’t tried it yet but now that I know what it is I think I will give it a try.  I think it will be something like a fruit roll up.  I’ll let you know!


I want to give a special shout out to all the kids in Mrs. Dillon’s class !  You all gave fabulous guesses.  What is your favorite kind of Chinese food?  Do you know what part of the country it comes from?  Do you know any Chinese words?  If so tell me what they are.  So far I have learned to say ‘hello’  which is Ni hao  (said knee how)  and ‘how are you?’  which is said ‘kneen how ma?’  What would you want to say if you came to China?

A semi-weekly food challenge


I am very sad, insert pouty face here, when I don’t get comments or emails.  And since you all seemed to enjoy the unusual food selections I posted  here, I thought I would try to perk up the conversation by giving you another installment in the game of “Guess what this is.”  The bonus round includes “What do you do with it” and  “What was the first thing that popped into your head when you saw it.”   And lastly the lighting round of “What was this blogger thinking when she saw it???”

The rules are simple.

1.  No cheating and googling the answers – those of you guilty of this know who you are!! lol

2.  There  are two winning categories: first the one with the correct answer and 2. the most creative answer – may or may not be factual.

Prizes include free room and board for visitors – airfare not included – and a meal of the winners choice.  This meal may or may not include the mystery item, it’s up to the discretion of the winner.  The winner will also get a full tour of the Carrefour grocery store while in lovely downtown Shanghai as well as a lesson in making xiao long bao.

Ok, so now that we are all clear here it goes:

I can’t wait to read your answers!

Talk to you all soon 🙂

Chinese cooking class


Many of you have jokingly asked “in China when you order take out, do they just call it food?”  LOL.  Well the other day I not only got to taste some authentic food, but learned how to make it too!  It is incredibly easy (as long as you have the master chef looking over your shoulder and helping you every time you screw up!).  This was reinforced when I went home and tried to make my own version which tasted good but looked nothing like the real thing.

So here is a little photo journal of my class learning how to make Xiao Long Bao.  – said “sh + ow(like ow that hurt!) long bow” (like bow and arrow).  They are basically fancy steamed dumplings with ground pork, some veg and soup inside.  They are very typical of Shanghai and you can buy them everywhere on the street, like pretzels in NYC.

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The dough is very simple, made with flour and water.  I tried to substitute whole wheat flour when I made them at home.  Although they tasted good, the texture was definitely tougher and there was so much less stretch to the dough that the pleating around the top was impossible to do, so we made them look more like ravioli folded over.  Hey, it all ends up in the same place, right?  So, my gluten free friends, keep this in mind if you give it a try with rice flour.

Here is the official recipe if you are feeling brave:


80 grams white flour

40cc cold water

100g minced meat

2g salt

2g sugar

2g white pepper

4g rice wine

4g light soy sauce

4g green onion

4g minced fresh ginger

a dash of sesame oil

70g pork jelly (recipe to follow)

1.  Put the flour in a mound on a board or the counter (having a scraper handy is a good idea) and make a well in the center that extends down to the board or counter.  Then take your finger and make a moat around the well so you finish with two rings of flour.

2. Pour the water in the middle well and use your fingers to blend the flour and water.  Use the scraper as necessary to collect all the bits.  The dough should be moist but not sticky.  Knead it for 5 minutes, folding and pressing with the heel of your hand.  roll the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and set aside for 10 minutes.

3. Season the minced pork.  In a mixing bowl add pork jelly and all other seasonings and mix well. Set aside.

4.  Roll the dough out into an elongated rectangle with a rolling pin.  Using your hands roll this up like a jelly roll.  Then roll the jelly roll out like a snake.  Stop when your ‘snake’ is about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter.  Using your scraper or a knife cut the snake into 1 to 1.5 inch lengths. Set aside and cover with plastic wrap or cloth.

5.  Take one section of your dough and flatten it out into a circle with the heel of your hand. Then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough towards the center but DO NOT go across the center.  You want the dough to stay thicker in the middle.  In the end you should have a circle of dough that fits roughly in the palm of your hand.  It should be fairly thin except for the middle which should have a thicker area about the size of a dime.

6.  Putting the circle of dough in your non-dominant hand, take a small teaspoon of filling and place over thicker area of dough.  Place the thumb of the non-dominant hand over the filling.  You will use this to tamp down the filling and to help stretch the dough over the top as you work your way around.  With your dominant hand start accordion folding the dough, pinching it firmly together, and work your way around.  Near the end you will have to remove your thumb and crimp the top closed.

7.  Place in a steamer over boiling water for 10 minutes.

8. Serve with soy sauce or vinegar. (a dark salty vinegar is traditional).

I made some this way and made a veggie filling with the same seasonings but substituted a variety of minced, sautéed mushrooms for the meat.  It was very yummy and worked well.

So the Pork Jelly part….I know you are all wondering…..  It’s basically the stuff that you have in the pan after you make a pork roast, or the stuff that jells on the top of soup when you chill it and then re-liquifies when you heat the soup up.  But here is the teacher’s recipe:

1. start with pork skin – meat and fat removed.

2. in a wok (or any other pot) add pork skin, water, green onion, ginger, rice wine.  bring to a boil on high heat.  Once it is boiling reduce the heat to a rolling simmer until the skin is soft.

3. keep cooking the liquid but remove the skin and chop it up well.  Then add the skin back to the liquid.

4. When the liquid becomes sticky it is ready.  Turn the heat off, let it cool. Then chill it and it will jell.  Use this in your dumplings.

When the jell reheats as you cook the dumpling it becomes soup inside.  It’s like a little yummy magic.  Just be careful because the soup part is really hot when they are just out of the steamer!

Let me know if you try it and how they come out.  I would love to see some pictures too!