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.

 

 

Temples and Elephants – Chaing Mai Thailand

Elephants are a symbol of Thailand. This temple is one of the oldest in Chaing Mai

Elephants are a symbol of Thailand. This temple is one of the oldest in Chaing Mai

It feels a little strange to consider our recent trip to Thailand and all that has unfolded since we departed. In Chaing Mai, there was no evidence of the political turmoil that the people were experiencing in the southern areas in and near Bangkok. However, recent reports in the South China Morning Post indicate that Chaing Mai is feeling the effects of the military takeover. I am sure that tourism will be down. Tourism in Thailand in the last year was already down by 20% even before the current strife. This decline in the economy is sad for a number of reasons . My heart goes out to the four-legged friends we met recently.

The lack of tourists to Chaing Mai is most concerning for the animals at the Elephant Nature Park that relies on tourist volunteers to feed and care for over 39 rescued elephants and 200 rescured dogs and cats as well as a number of water buffalo. Visiting tourists have the opportunity to learn about the situation for elephants post logging in Thailand and to feed and bathe these sweet and gentle animals. It is an enourmous task to keep these creatures fed and the visitors not only help by working, but the fees paid for entry to the park assist in purchasing the food and medical supplies needed to keep the park running.

At the Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai Thailand. Home to rescued elephants, dogs cats and water buffalos.

At the Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai Thailand. Home to rescued elephants, dogs cats and water buffalos. This sweet girl was the victim of a land mine on the Thai Burma border.

Food is separated in baskets for each elephant. Some have special dietary needs and medication.

Food is separated in baskets for each elephant. Some have special dietary needs and medication. Watermelon is a favorite.

Racks of pumpkin await prepartion.

Racks of pumpkin await prepartion.

elephant 3 steve and andrea with elephant 2

Since logging was banned in 1989, elephants still suffer. The ban left over 3,000 logging elephants essentially homeless. No longer needed, they were left with no purpose. Anyone can own an elephant. They are considered livestock and the homeless elephants were used as sideshows for tourists and until very recently, were used to beg on the streets in Bangkok. The Elephant Nature Park started to buy injured and exploited elephants giving them sanctuary and a quiet home. Some of the elepahnat here are over 80 years old.

Mom and baby enjoy a mud bath. Mud works as a sunscreen.

Mom and baby enjoy a mud bath. Mud works as a sunscreen.

Bath time at the river. Elephants need to bathe daily to keep them cool and to hydrate their skin.

Bath time at the river. Elephants need to bathe daily to keep them cool and to hydrate their skin.

bath 2

Additionally, the park works to train mahouts (elephant owners) throughout Thailand and in Cambodia to work with elephants in humane ways. The process of taming the elephants is a horrific and sinister process. We watched a film that showed the process, and I could not stand to watch or listen. The park founder Sangduen “Lek” Chailert has proven that there are humane methods to train elephants to be with people and is working to spread the word. 

Baby born in captivity with mother and aunt

Baby born in captivity with mother and aunt

Currently the park has raised three elephants that were born in captivity to be released back to the wild. However, the danger of poaching is too great for this to happen very soon.  It is estimated that there are just 1,500 wild elephants left in Thailand.

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Wok Wednesdays – Cashew Chicken

This recipe comes from Stir-Fry to the Sky’s Edge page 123 by Grace Young and is part of the Wok Wednesdays cooking project that can be found on Facebook or on Wok Wednesdayas 

cashew chicken

cashew chicken

 

Cashew Chicken. It is not a dish I would order in a restaurant. It was very easy and good, but not very remarkable compared to other dishes.

I deciced when I joined Wok Wednesdays that as I would always try to make the recipe as written when I can find all the ingredients. I then make notes and suggest changes I would make. for me and my family.  On this dish, I would definately add some heat in the form of thai chilis, serrono or jalepenos. It would be a great dish to serve to those that do not like heat, but enjoy an nice Chinese stir-fry.

Wok Wednesdays – Stir-Fried Garlic Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat

This recipe comes from Stir-Fry to The Skys Edge page 156 by Grace Young and is part of the Wok Wednesday Project that can be found on Facebook

The finished dish. Stir-Fried Garlic Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat

The finished dish. Stir-Fried Garlic Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat

This fairly easy, really decadent dish was a cinch to make and was packed with a very rich flavor. Pea shoots are sweet and tender when young. It was an easy find in the wet markets of Hong Kong. Lump crabmeat was more of a difficult find, but in the more western-style groceries we did find them.

Fresh, tender pea shoots.

Fresh, tender pea shoots.

Crabmeat and egg white.

Crabmeat and egg white.

Crabmeat is mixed with chicken broth and egg whites are whisked to form the sauce.

The stir-fry of pea shoots and garlic

The stir-fry of pea shoots and garlic

The garlic and pea shoots are stir-fried to make the base for the delicious crab sauce.

The first time I had pea shoots was in a pasta dish made by my daughter, Kam. The recipe came from the NYTimes Mark Bittman and and included morel mushrooms. It is a really wonderful dish, and a a perinneal favorite when we are in Oregon in spring and have a weath of delightful morels. Like the crabmeat, the morals are rich and lovely with the sweet and tender pea shoots.

Not a photgenic dish, but it did not last too long.

a picture is worth a 1,000 words

a picture is worth a 1,000 words