Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stella Says "Do You Juice?"

Juicing is THE THING these days.  There are many reasons people choose to give up food to juice every few hours for days at a time - detox, weight loss or just to give your body a break.  We wanted to know what the skinny was so we asked our resident nutritionist, Stella Chan Marinaro, to give us the facts straight up.

Juice Cleanses Verses Detoxing Diets

Juice cleanses are more popular than ever. If you are not a “juicer” yourself, you have probably come across a few. Juicers are people who go on extreme, low calorie diets of liquefied fruits, vegetables and nut concoctions for a period of a few days to a week. What are the reasons for why people juice?

The diet involves the use of a special juicing machine to liquefy foods and nutrients while extracting the fiber. A diet comprised solely of juices is said to be easier on the digestive system because it gives it a break from having to digest solid foods. People who drink these juices believe that they rid the body of toxins, curb food cravings, increase energy levels and make them look and feel better.

Do juice cleanses work?

I always encourage a healthy daily diet of fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein and dairy. Those who do not eat enough of these but are willing to drink fruit and vegetable juices will see and feel the health benefits of juicing. However, for those of us who do eat enough fruits and vegetables daily, there are no reasons to juice. In fact, removing all fiber from the diet could be detrimental to a healthy digestive system, which needs fiber to clean and clear bodily wastes. Our body naturally eliminates toxins with the help of our liver, kidneys and lymphatic system. We don’t need juicing to do that.

Furthermore, juice diets do not provide sufficient calories, and often come with warnings to refrain from exercising as it may cause fatigue or dizziness. While it can be argued that replacing real food with low calorie juices will likely result in some weight loss, once the dieter goes back to eating solid foods the weight generally will return if old eating habits are not changed.

Detoxing diets and fasting are other popular springtime rituals. Foods containing sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are eliminated for a period of time to rid the body of toxins and give it a fresh healthy start. Many religious groups partake in fasting rituals for about a month to forty-days.

While I have never done a juice cleanse, I have tasted many of the popular brands on the market, out of curiosity, and found some to be more palatable than others. I prefer to eat a variety of healthy foods, and plenty of fruits and vegetables with the fiber intact, rather than having to deal with the hassle and mess of juicing. 

I do, however strongly encourage detoxing (eliminating unhealthy foods high in sugar, fat and salt from your diet for prolonged periods) to rid bad eating habits. Research indicates that it takes about forty days or six weeks change a bad habit. Detoxing and fasting, in order to replace bad eating habits with good ones, are beneficial to your health and a worthwhile springtime ritual.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

맛있는mas-issneun – oh yes indeedio!

Living in Asia sure has its benefits when it comes to well, Asian food.  One of our favorite lunch spots (and we have many!) is a Korean restaurant in, surprise, Wangjing. Located next to KFC on the fifth floor lies Zixiamen- a huge place with many rooms, excellent service and an extensive menu.

Quite recently on a day of hectic shopping we went back, once again, for a quick fix of kimchi, Korean bbq and whatever goodies they would serve that day. After many visits we have finally learned to not over order because there is no need – they bring you food for free!!

We have tried many items on the menu; bulgogi, prawns, noodles and even grilled squid but we always go back to the barbecued steak on the bone, niu wang pai gu. The meat comes with leaves of salad and cabbage, vegetable sticks, miso paste, raw garlic slices and a clear sauce that we have yet to figure out what it is. You can grill it yourself at the table but we prefer to have them do it for us, away from the table, to avoid the smoke and the extensive heat.  Once the meat arrives perfectly cooked and cut into perfectly sized cubes, the best way to enjoy is to douse it in miso paste, roll in a leaf and eat with your hands – simply delish.

Before the meat arrives though, plate after plate appears with kimchi, an assortment of appetizers of the day and a salad to die for. The salad is simple in itself; basically just green leaves, but the dressing is what make it special. Spicy yet slightly sweet and very addictive and best of it all – they keep bringing more!

One of our favorite people, and one of our most loyal students - Sunny, invited us to Korea town one day to visit a Korean market and to have lunch. Obviously we had to do this – what an opportunity!

One of our most favorite students -
and our Wangjing tour guide!
 The market was a usual supermarket except everything, and we mean EVERYTHING, was in Korean. Sure there were some known brands and products but still – all Korean.

Sunny was swift in cruising down the isles, throwing thing after thing in the basket; snacks, cookies, condiments, rice wine, meat – you name it. While Sunny was busy exploring the meat section we went on a walkabout in the beauty isles and learned some new facts about how Korean women keep that luminous, clear skin. Little did we know that snail mucous does the trick! Exactly what the placenta revival face mask consists of was unclear though…

With shopping done we moved on to lunch, the most important item on our agenda!  Sunny took us to one of her favorite spots in Wangjing – Ai Jiang Shan, another beautiful room with an open space as well as separate rooms and a small moat creating a peaceful atmosphere.  Again, the service was impeccable (the Koreans really seem to be on to something!).  Immediately we were served tea and hot towels and handed the extensive menu. We passed it over to Sunny who proceeded to order a collection of dishes including kimchi pancake, bulgogi served in a hot stone bowl and sweet potato noodles with meaty mushrooms.   And once again lots of small bowls filled with delightful little bites arrived while we waited for our main meal:  yummy little sausages, spicy bean sprouts, crunchy kimchi, eggy tofu and so much more!  This is so very wonderful but also dangerous; it is easy to fill yourself up before the “real” food even arrives.  But then it did and again we topped our stomachs up to the brim, leaving sated and happy after having spent a lovely day with a lovely lady eating lovely Korean delicacies.

A peaceful mid-day break at Ai Jiang Shan

Monday, May 12, 2014

Marebella - Another Shunyi Hit - or a Miss?

We finally did it.

The Mediterranean Restaurant next to The Garage has been a work in progress for quite some time and the word around Shunyi has been everything from skeptical to optimistic.  What kind of Mediterranean? Greek? Italian? French, Spanish or perhaps Lebanese? There are many countries around the Mediterranean, all with quite distinctive cuisines and with a name like Marebella many of us suspected Spanish but no one knew what to expect and we were not super eager to try either.

Unfortunately, more often than not, Western restaurants in China are a miss. Over priced and inauthentic, scattered menus and kitchy décor. The food is almost never up to par and the service horrible. Obviously there are a few exceptions but overall, hen bu hao.

So, we were a bit doubtful when we decided to give Marebella a try for lunch the other day. The restaurant had only two other tables occupied so we received a warm welcome and could choose wherever we wanted to sit.  A plus we think. There is nothing more annoying than when you are asked for a reservation in an empty room.

There was a damp smell in the place and the room was too warm but then again, that is nothing new here in China! It’s just that, it’s a brand newly opened place! It should smell of paint - almost!

We were handed the menus and quickly understood the Mediterranean concept  - there is something from every cuisine around the Mediterranean represented on the menu! There is pizza and pasta, tzatziki and hummus, falafel and even tiramisu.

Through the grapevine we had heard that it was a safer bet to stick with the Middle Eastern dishes so that’s what we decided to do. Just as we were about to order the Mezze platter as an starter, a complimentary plate of selected mezze appeared. We were offered a taste of the hummus (too grainy for our taste), baba gannoush (no smoky flavor whatsoever in this eggplant dip) and little bites of cumin carrots (they were actually quite good).

Skipping the appetizers, we instead decided to share a plate of Lebanese Taboule and the house falafel. Well, we are very sorry to share with you that the taboule was no taboule! There was an abundance of couscous, a few specks of parsley and a handful of chopped vegetables with a good citrusy twang.  Our main issue with this dish is that, for starters, taboule does not involve couscous!  There should be bulgur and not much of it.  The chopped lemony minty salad goodness with a few grains of bulgur that we expected was not to be found. 

So already disappointed in our meal, we turned to the falafel.  Well, we are sorry to say that they were not any better - over cooked and extremely dry.  Served with French fries (really?!?), a dollop of hummus, some salad leaves, rubbery mushrooms and even more couscous.

Perhaps we should go back once more just to give Marebella a fair chance to improve but sadly, we just don’t want to waste our money and time on it.

Shape up Marebella or you will probably soon only be a distant memory.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


We LOVE eggs.

Eggs can be used for almost everything and at every meal.  There are endless ways to enjoy them - scrambled, boiled, poached, fried, omelettes, en cocotte, in frittata, baked, in cakes and cookies, in mayonnaise….

We recently found an excellent article explaining the ins and outs of the egg and thought it would be share worthy so let’s break it down…

The white, aka albumen, should be cloudy on a fresh egg.  The white contains carbon dioxide and will become more transparent as it ages.

The yolk, aka the yellow, can and should have different shades of yellow depending on the feed the hen is receiving. Hens that are lucky enough to forage naturally will have a deep red-yellow yolk.  If the hens eat yellow corn, alfalfa meal and marigold petals, the color will be deep yellow.  If they eat wheat or barley, you guessed it, the yolk will be a pale yellow color.

The string inside the yolk, aka the chalaza, is not the non-born chick. There is no risk of finding baby chicks inside eggs bought for food. The purpose of the chalaza is to connect the albumen and the yolk and to protect the yolk. The more prominent the chalaza, the fresher the egg.

The shell is rich in calcium, lets air in and carbon dioxide out and protects against contamination. Eggs are usually washed before sale, removing the natural protective coating but….we are not sure this is a practice here in China, especially if you buy your eggs at a market.

Now that we have the components down, what are the culinary uses? Lets take it in alphabetical order shall we:

Binding – eggs coagulate as they cook and can thus bind ingredients together. Good examples are meatballs, omelets, frittatas and spaghetti carbonara.

Coating – Beat an egg and you will have instant glue for breading! Use it when making fried fish fillets, chicken breasts or nuggets, veal cutlets or why not vegetables.

Emulsion – An emulsion is a mixture of water and fat and egg yolks contain ecithin that helps with that. How else would you make mayonnaise, hollandaise or ceasar dressing?

Enriching – Eggs add richness, color and flavor to a variety of food such as pasta dough, cakes and bread.

Garnishing – hello? Slice or chop a hard-boiled egg on some lettuce leaves and you have a salad!  Spread some on a piece of bread and you have lunch!

Glazing – beat a whole egg (or only the yolk or the white) and brush it onto dough before cooking and you have shiny baked goodies.  Have you ever seen a dull Danish?

Leavening – Whip an egg white and you get tiny bubbles that expand with heat and gives incredible lightness for soufflés, meringues and cakes!

Thickening – When eggs heat up the protein will coagulate and help thicken mixtures in for example custards, puddings and flan.

So there you go. Isnt’ it eggciting?  We are eggstatic about eggs, can you tell?  Ok, we’ll just stop now – time to cook!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Out of the Classroom and Into the Showroom!

The STARA team is proud and honored to work closely with Clicia’s Designs and Shayne’s Treasures – so closely, in fact, that we together decided to host a few classes in their shop in Dragon Bay!  In the small kitchenette we held two cocktail classes – one sweet and one salty – during two consecutive days in April. We figured; if you can do it here – you can do it anywhere!

We arrived one day early to set up and organize ourselves, without too much disturbance we hope, and all we brought (except for ingredients and a lot of utensils) was a hot plate, since while there are two ovens in the tiny kitchenette there is no stove.

Class number one was dedicated to sweet treats and cocktails and, in only a few short hours, we managed to whip up lemon curd, strawberry coulis, white chocolate mousse, chipotle brownie bites and mini scones and, of course, successfully mix two cocktails to go with. The aim was to show how easy it is to create a sweet spread for any occasion, be it a cocktail party or a sit down dinner.

In class number two we showed our students how to make two of our most asked for treats; cheddar wrapped olives and the addictive herb filo paquets. Though these two nibbles are a bit time consuming, they are well worth the work. There were no leftovers after this class! While we waited for these two warm delights to bake, we quickly whipped up an artichoke and olive dip and devoured it with crudités.  A cocktail party is no party without cocktails and we not only stirred a perfect dry martini, we created some crowd friendly party drinks based on the martini theme.

We had a fantastic time these two days, meeting new friends and sharing good food and drinks together and we hope to repeat the success in the future. If you are interested in joining us; look out on the blog for announcements on when it will happen!

Of course we took time to browse the bling in the store – there is truly something for everyone and it’s an excellent place to find that special thing for that special someone. And if you are in the market for new spectacles, sunglasses or correctives, make sure to pass by on a Tuesday when Wendy is in the house. She will help you get that movie star look with glasses directly imported from Los Angeles.

Clicia’s Designs and Shayne’s Treasures are located on the east side of Dragon Bay Villas, next to the Ice Mart, close to the police station.