Sunday, March 16, 2014

We Found It!

Many of you have asked where we get the colorful dishes we use to serve our creations.  Remember that pottery store that used to be in Europlaza? Later it moved to Jingmi Lu before vanishing into thin air…?  Guess what?  We found it!

While driving around Shunyi one day we spotted a van with “Chinaware for export” printed on the back door.  Did we not we recognize the name from somewhere? Was that perhaps the store we had been meaning to go to and when we did it had disappeared? A quick text message was sent to the number and all we could do was wait.  And you know - we are oh so patient!

Less then 24 hours later we get a call from a Chinese man who immediately hands over the phone to a woman who speaks a fraction of English.  To make a long story short, it quickly got too complicated and we decided that she would send the directions in Chinese for us to show to a local driver.

We did and, after a few more phone calls, we went all the way on the river road until the main intersection where we turned left, continued straight, went under the ramp to the Jing Cheng Expressway and continued even further. There is nothing there, nada, and the road will eventually come to a dead end. Just before it does; look for a small building on your right, the store is located on the second floor, the name is on a big billboard on the building itself - Pottery for Export.
Have fun shopping! This is what we most recently bought.

Is it a 6 or a 9?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

High AQI Rescues - Soups, Stews and Comfort Food

What to do when the weather is yucky for days at no end and you just want to hibernate.

It is disgusting out there!

Winter this year up until now has been ok, quite good actually, but it feels like ever since the Chinese New Year holiday celebrations were finally over, the hazardous days have been coming at us one after the other.

So what to do when all we want to do (and should do) is hide inside?  Well, not having a barbecue for sure (since it is strictly forbidden by the Chinese government), no – this weather calls for comfort food - meals enjoyed behind closed doors and windows with the air purifiers cranked up high.

So we started writing this when we were in the middle of a weeklong black-out; the AQI and pm2.5 readings had been off the charts…until a few days ago when we woke up to clear blue skies, a light breeze and smiling happy faces all around. There were groups chatting at the compound gate as we dropped off our children at the school buses, plans for lunch were made and impromptu walks were arranged.  Going inside, if only to change clothes or organize the day seemed like a crime.

Yup, there were smiles all around and the bad moods that had been lingering during our week long hibernation were blown away, like the dust that had caused it.  But, what can we do during the next smog-a-gedon to lift our moods, so easily affected by the weather conditions completely out of our control?  Well, this is a blog dedicated to food so let’s skip the easy fixes like shopping and spa visits and get back to the idea of comfort food.

Ask anyone about their favorite comfort food and you will get a different answer. Curry, says the Thai, daal says the Indians, Mexican says many Americans (!), pasta say a lot of people, roast chicken with rice and gravy, soup with home made bread, chili, roast beef with potato gratin, risotto…..

The main component though is home made. Fast food doesn’t make the list, no one we asked said take-away. It’s mom’s this, my grandma’s that or that thing that the auntie makes so well – recipes passed down from generations or at least Jamie Oliver or Paula Deen.

More importantly, it doesn’t have to be complicated; to make a lovely home-made bread, all you need is flour, salt, water and yeast, a bowl, some patience and an oven. Raid the refrigerator and pantry for vegetables and spices and voila - you have a warming soup to go with.  Add some cheese and a glass of red and you are done! Or brown some chuck, add onions garlic, maybe carrots and whatever you can find, some thyme maybe and let simmer in wine for a looooong time et voila! You have a French stew!

Fabulous French Stew

We make and eat a lot of soups and stews, even when the weather is decent. Cold soups, hot soups, creamy soups, meaty stews and clear broths – there is no end on how to vary it. Stacey's favorite is her mom's Indian-inspired vegetable stew and Texas Chili.  The smells alone recall warm kitchens, cooking together and being surrounded by love and laughter.  For Sara a roasted chicken with rice and gravy hits the spot, or the flavourful Belgian chicken soup served with garlic bread...yum. Or why not, for something completely different, a freshly cooked lobster leaving salty sticky fingers and a cat stroking our legs hoping for leftovers, served with a glass of chilled bubbles, of course...

We love it so much that we decided to share some of our favorite recipes with our devoted students in a Soups and Stews class. In four hours we managed to create and devour Vichyssoise and a spiced African Chickpea soup, our toned down paprika-laced Hungarian Goulash and a saffron scented fish stew.  We even ended our class and meal with a crisp and chilled apple soup served with an almond crisp.  You can have soup for dessert!

Vichyssoise and Saffron-Scented Fish Stew

Comforting Goulash and Exotic African Chickpea Stew

Crisp Apple Soup - Yes - Soup for Dessert!

Let us know your favorite comfort food and the stories that go with them.  Nothing warms the soul like wonderful food and memories!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Want to Pig Out?

Isn’t it fun going somewhere different now and then?  Eat something new? Try a new setting and be surprised with a complimentary warm yam smoothie?

A warm, yam smoothie - it was a first for us but love the color!

No, you’re right, that doesn’t happen every day and even though we will probably not order it (and thus have to pay for it), it was comforting in a silky, purple, almost runny oatmealy kind of way.

The Pig, yes, that is the name (the English translation anyway), is located in Pinnacle Avenue, where A to Z kids used to be, next to the drive through McDonalds, where Let’s Burger was located for a very brief period….ring a bell?  Well if you drive to the end of this strip mally area you can’t miss it; there is a festive Chinese vibe outside that is impossible to miss.  Red lanterns swaying in the wind create a canopy to walk under to get to the entrance, smiley staff greets you with a very enthusiastic: “Hello!” and “Welcome!”, they are truly happy to have you as a guest. Extremely.
A few members of the staff are scattered around the reception area on the entrance floor where a roaring fire is warming up what looks like a pizza oven. There is a seating area as well and you can sit like a king in a rhinoceros chair and admire the giant pigs that are spread around the room for decoration.

A canopy of colorful lanterns welcomes you to A Pig.
Even the pigs are colorful!
The dining area is located on the second floor; a large nicely decorated space with rustic tables and chairs, colorful ethnic art on the wall and also a picture of an elephant, just because.

The staff is very friendly and accommodating, which is very helpful when choosing what to eat from the extensive menu. The food is presented on a huge two-sided board with pictures and Chinese explanations, no English. That is fine, we are at this point used to pointing and grunting out questions of what protein is in the dish and whether it is cold or hot.

No lack of options with this menu!

We proceeded to order a selection of four dishes, way too much but we had to try them all! We started with thinly sliced lotus root with green beans in a spicy Szechuan sauce, a vinegary salad with dill and some kind of grain – a great contrast to the spicy dish to cool down our burning tongues. Then came a warm salad with pork, thinly sliced dried chilies and an abundance of coriander and finally a ma po to fu, creamy tofu cubes in a spicy bean sauce. Needless to say, there were lots of leftovers – nothing remained of the warm pork salad though, it was so good we ate every morsel.

Yummy spicy lotus root with green beans

Cooling dill, greens and grains. 

Our favorite dish - shredded pork, mild chilis and tons of fresh coriander

The restaurant is not called The Pig for nothing; if huge platters of knuckels and trotters are your thing, this is the place to go. We didn’t feel like it on the day we visited but platefuls of the stuff was brought out to other patrons.

Did we mention that the service was good? Well, it is worth mentioning again. The staff were all smiles and professionalism, kindness and humour – we want to go back soon again only to feel welcomed like we did this day!

Waiting for us to return again!