How Did these kitchen gods make it to America?

So, how did these kitchen gods make it to the US?

If you’ve been following us for a while, you might know that I started this blog when my husband and I moved to Hong Kong from the United States for a two-years assignment for his work. Since I, myself, was not the one working during this assignment, I set out to embrace the experience and learn as much as I could about Hong Kong and China. I was intrigued with Chinese culture. I tried everything I could, but naturally began to hone in on one of my favorite things: cooking!
It all started with stir-fry. I found an amazing recipe for Sunchoke and Cashew Stir-Fry on 101 Cookbooks. It was that post that introduced me to Grace Young and her book Breath of A Wok. From there, I ventured down the stir-fry rabbit hole to the Facebook Group, Wok Wednesdays and learned to stir-fry by cooking my way through Grace’s Stir-Fry To The Sky’s Edge with the other group members.
I connected with Grace through Wok Wednesdays. She told me about places in Hong Kong and China I wouldn’t have found on my own, we compared and contrasted the changes in Hong Kong and she answered questions on buying and seasoning myfirst wok. Her help led me to the Cen Brothers in Shanghai, China and to one of my most favorite processions: a handmade wok such as the one pictured on the cover of Breath of a Wok. Grace also piqued my interest in the stories and traditions centered on cooking and the home in China, which led me to kitchen gods.
Grace has a collection of kitchen gods photographed in her books and her website, and she speaks of peoples’ offerings to the kitchen god at the lunar new year. I was already intrigued, but it was the article in  Fine Cooking Magazine 2013 Feb/Mar issue that tipped the scales for me seeing Grace’s collection on her kitchen counter; I just had to find a kitchen god statue for myself.
I searched high and low in the alleys and shops of Hong Kong for a kitchen god. I asked at my husband’s office, entirely made up of Chinese citizens from all over China, and had no luck. I searched the shops of Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai and still came up empty-handed.
At the time, my husband worked for an international shipping company that had a firm understanding of sourcing and all the knowledge of how to develop and buy an item. We put our heads together, and suddenly the answer was crystal clear! We found a ceramic company that still had molds for kitchen gods and approached them. Although then had not made kitchen gods for many years, they made some prototypes and we decided to purchase a quantity and bring them back to the United States when we returned.
The rest is history! We’re back in the US now, but I still find myself thinking back to our days in Hong Kong and China when I look at our kitchen gods. My hope is that you can make new happy memories together with a kitchen god of your own. If you do, please share a photo with us! We love to see people appreciating kitchen gods and making memories together.

 

The Rooster Crows!

It has been a long time since I have written a blog post for Western Chopsticks. It might be that the Monkeys made for an erratic year for me. Or maybe the erratic year was because I never posted in honor of the Monkeys last year. The superstitious me, thinks that might be the case!

Now we are close to hearing the Rooster crow! Fire Rooster presides over the coming year which begins on January 28, 2017.

According to the Astrology Club:

“The Year of the Rooster will be a powerful one, with no middle of the road when it comes to moving forward. This year, impressions count. You’ll want to look your best and be clear on your intentions concerning love, money, and business. Stick to practical and well-proven paths to ensure success, rather than risky ventures.

Remember: In a Rooster Year, all of the Chinese animals can reap great rewards by tapping into Rooster traits. Loyalty, commitment, hard work, family values, and top-notch appearances are just some of the characteristics that will be rewarded this year.”

I am the midst of cleaning and preparing for the new year. Buying new clothes to look our best, tidying up living spaces, changing the water filter (I do frequently, but want a fresh flow of clean water in as we usher in the Rooster), and of course washing the Kitchen God and preparing a fresh altar to insure a happy home and lots of good food to eat.

 

Wok Wednesdays – Stir Fried Bok Choy with Pancetta

stir-Fried Bok Choy with Pancetta, is an adaptation of the recipe on page 226 of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge by Grace Young.  And, check out Wok Wednesdays on Facebook, a group of over 1000 members cooking their way through Grace’s fantastic cookbook.

Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Pancetta complete!

Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Pancetta complete!

This was my first attempt back at Wok Wednesdays. I’ve missed it!! It has been three months of moving and trying to settle back into life in the US after living in Hong Kong for two years. But I think we are finally arrived!

 

My first observation is how inexpensive food is in the US. Even when shopping in the high end markets and buying organic, it is less expensive than in Hong Kong for safe and organic vegetables.

I knew that this would be a winner as we always love stir-fried greens. Pancetta or American bacon always adds nice flavor. Super easy to prepare and super easy to enjoy.

Since I am living at least part-time in Phoenix, we are enjoying wonderfull fresh veggies. It is the height of the season here. All great greens and winter veggies in the farmer’s markets. Feeling quite spoilied at the moment.

Looking forward to getting going again with Wok Wednesdays.

 

Shanghai and the Wok Man

Shanghai alley

 

We certainly did not have enough time to explore all of Shanghai. It would take years. Our main mission was to find the Shanghai Wok Man and purchase some of the last-known handmade and hand-hammered woks.

Famous skyline of Shanghai

Famous skyline of Shanghai

Shanghai is now a city of over 24 million. This makes it the largest city in China as well as the largest city, in population, in the world. It covers an area of land of over 2,448 square miles. This status could change in the near future as China is on track to move 60% of it’s rural population into cities by 2020 according to the South China Morning Post article.

It is an international city, and it has a very nice vibe. Not as frantic in feel as other big cities in China like Beijing and Shenzhen. Surprisingly, we did not have a lot of trouble moving around the city by taxi.  Thankfully, we did not get caught in the hour’s long traffic tie-ups that are common.

I learned about the wok man from my friend, Grace Young, author of Stir-Fry to The Sky’s Edge, The Breath of a Wok and Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. She met him doing research, and in fact, the lovely photo of the Wok on the cover of Breath of a Wok is one of the Shanghai Wok Man’s. I decided to try to find him and add one of his beautiful woks to my growing collection.

In Shanghai, and really all of cities in China, the older neighborhoods are under assault. Development is fast and furious. The wok man’s neighborhood was rumored to be on the short list of redevelopment. So, it could be a bit iffy to find him. I had recent reports from another of Grace’s friends that visited in early 2014 that he was still working at the same location. Then I found this great post on Jamjnr, an expat blog, confirming that he was in the same neighborhood, and the post gave terrific directions to his place.

Shanghai neighborhood street.

Shanghai neighborhood street.

We drew a lot of attention walking down the street which was bustling with activity. Wet markets, dentists, hair cutting stations and hardware stores lined the alleys. The buildings were old, but you could see the charm in the old architecture.

Wok man outside 1

We had a little bit of a hard time finding the Shanghai Wok Man, Mr. Cen. It was a rainy day and he was not outside working, so we could not follow the sound of the hammering to find his place. Thanks to Steve, he noticed a rusty wok hanging outside. It was a sure sign. We polked our head inside and and found Mr. Cen’s associate. Westerners turing up must be common, he did not speak any English, but knew right away what we wanted.

You know how sometimes your life is made up of soundtracks? Well, my beautiful Shanghai Wok will always have a country feel to it because Slim Whitman was singing the Tennassee Waltz over an old AM/FM transistor radio as we selected, discussed prices and wrapped up the woks.

Woks and ladles

Woks and ladles. Note the hammer tell-tail hammer marks

with Mr. Cen and our purchurse

with Mr. Cen and our purchurse

If you go:

Cen Rong Gen’s woks
214 Baoyuan Lu, near Baotong Lu
宝源路214号, 近宝通路

The wok man's neighborhood in Shanghai

The wok man’s neighborhood in Shanghai

To Mr. Cen’s knowledge, he belived himself to be the last know artisan of hand-hammered woks.  However while we were expoloring other areas of Shanghai, we found a book a little book titled  Shanghai Housewares recently published. It lists another artisan, Little Tao’s Handmade Wrought Iron Woks. His location is listed as Zhoushan Road, Houngkou District. We discussed it with a coup le local Shanghai people and determined that there was not really a shop location listed and he was probably working on the street. We did not have a chance to visit this street and find his location. If anyone does, please let me know!

It’s Personal – The Ice Bucket Challenge

I’m taking part in the wave of philanthropy that’s sweeping the nation and the world. The fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

The ice bucket

The ice bucket

MomOn September 4, 2014, it will be 15 years since my mom, DeeLores V Thrall, lost her battle with ALS. Such a terrible disease.

I still miss her so much. There is so much that I wish she were here to witness. Three things especially come to mind. I wish she were here to see the fantastic young woman that Kam has turned out to be. I wish she could see Veronica and what a truly terrific mom she is, and I wish she could have met the sweetest and smartest little boy in the world, her great grandson, Calvin.

I think about my mom a lot since I have been here in Hong Kong, because she would have been the best expat woman here. All the society events and all the afternoon teas and beautiful clothes and volunteering and playing mahjong with the other expat women. She would have loved to be a member of the American Woman’s Association. She would have loved the once-a-year tea at the US Consulate and meeting the Consular General of Hong Kong. She would have thrived and loved every minute of living here. She would have been a far better expat woman in Hong Kong than I have been. These are not the areas in which I excel, but they are so my mom. Drat that ALS, she would have loved to live this life through us, and I would have loved telling her all about it.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is sweeping the world. Today, in Hong Kong, there were photos on the front page of the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong leaders taking the challenge for ALS. So many high-profile leaders all over the world: President Obama, the Kennedys, Matt Lauer, Martha Stewart. And so many ordinary compassionate folks and people that have been personally touched, all coming together to support research to cure this horrific disease.

Needless to say, the challenge is a bit personal for me, and it seems fitting that on the anniversary of losing my mom to ALS that I take the challenge and honor her memory in fun and hope that someday we will defeat this disease.

This one is for you mom!

jen 2 ice bucket copy

 

Okay friends and family…. I am calling out five of you., Let’s get this chain of fun and goodwill going!  Kam Thomas, Gay Reichle, Andrea Bryan, Patti Hansen and Diana Gray…….I am challenging you!

The Streets Where We Live

Considering that I am going to be leaving Hong Kong in just a couple short months, I am trying to see the world around me with the same eyes I had when I arrived almost two years ago. Of course this is not possible. Nothing is permanent. My eyes have changed of course, but the exciting thing about impermanece is that there is change. In Hong Kong, change is a matter of everyday life.

pink Einstein copy

This new wall painting popped up recently and I just love it! I love the pink and I love the Einstein and I love the cactus below. It does make me smile.

These Hong Kong side streets were I live are pleaseant to explore. Many on stairs and on a steep slope.

Evidence of a yarn bomber.

Evidence of a yarn bomber.

yarn 2 copyMore to come.

 

Wok Wednesdays – Stir-Fried Watermelon Rind

Stir-Fried Watermelon with Ginger Pork is an adaptation of the recipe on page 232 of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge by Grace Young. See page 230 for information on watermelon rind. And, check out Wok Wednesdays on Facebook, a group of over 500 members cooking their way through Grace’s fantastic cookbook.

Peeled and chopped. So little waste.

Peeled and chopped. So little waste.

Waste not, want not. That came to my mind when preparing this recipe. After removing the outer skin of the watermelon with a peeler and cubing the inside flesh, very little remained of the watermelon. In doing research,I found that he watermelon rind is has some nutritional benefits. It contains an amino acid, citrulline, that aids circulation. 

Mainly used as pickles in the US , the rind has the consistancy of a cucumber. In China, it is mainly used in stir-frys , and it offers a nice backdrop for other flavors. I used chile sesame oil on the finishing touch and the little bit of watermelon flesh left on the rind gave a little hint of sweetness.

Sitr-fried watermelon rind Stir-Fried Watermelon Rind 2

Would I make this recipe again, absolutely especially during the summer months when watermelon abounds.

Tip from Grace Young: Look for seeded watermelon rather then seedless, because the rind is a bit bigger. I could not find seeded watermelonn in the market and it was a bit thin by the time I peeled the outer skin, but it worked fine.

Wok Wednesdays – Stir-Fry Fuzzy Melon with Ginger Pork

Stir-Fried Fuzzy Melon with Ginger Pork recipe comes from page 232 Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge by Grace Young. Check out Wok Wednesdays on Facebook, a group of over 500 members cooking their way through Grace’s fantastic cookbook.

Fuzzy melon in the wet market of Hong Kong

Fuzzy melon in the wet market of Hong Kong

As a Weight Watchers leader, a common summertime theme was to get members to try a new vegetable as there are many fresh options for vegetables available. I was always astounded by the limited vegetable palate of most members. Sometimes trying the zucchini was an adventure.

For me, I struggled to find vegetables that I had not tried and incorporated into my cooking repertoire. Asian vegetables opened a whole new world of things to try. Strolling through the enormous Asian markets in Minneapolis with my favorite Asian cook, Ari, was fascinating. I learned so much. What to buy, how to cook, frozen vs. fresh, canned vs. frozen. Little did I know that her help in Minneapolis would improve my cooking in Hong Kong. And, Wok Wednesdays has guided me along the way in finding new ways to prepare and cook the common Asian vegetable.

Fuzzy Melon

Fuzzy Melon

I have seen the fuzzy melon in the wet markets in Hong Kong. It is available year round. The fuzziness is not detected until you touch. It is a little prickly, but not too bad. These melons were tender and a bit on the small side. I selected two, and they were the perfect amount for the recipe.

Chopped melon

I did not peel them. My mistake but when I realized the recipe called for peeling, I tasted the uncooked piece, and the skin was tender and not bitter, so I proceeded. I actually think that visually, the dish, I think, is more appealing with some or all of the skin unpeeled.

In the wok and very pretty!

In the wok and very pretty!

It is amazing how far protein can go in a stir-fry dish. With only two ounces of pork in the dish, it was still very flavorful and filling. I thought the fuzzy melon was very close to zucchini. It had great texture, and the ginger was very nice with the pork and the melon.

The finished dish! Filling and tasty stir-fried fuzzy melon with ginger pork

The finished dish! Filling and tasty stir-fried fuzzy melon with ginger pork

Ok, I met the summertime challenge of trying a new vegetable. Actually, I meet that challenge a lot living in Hong Kong. Fuzzy melon was new for me. It was nice, and I would cook with it again. Maybe in a soup or fresh on salad. What could be next in tasting new and different things? Durian? Not likely at this time, but one never knows.