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.

 

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!

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.

 

 

Wok Wednesdays- BBQ Pork Lo Mein and Catch Up

BBQ Pork Lo Mein...Delicious!

BBQ Pork Lo Mein…Delicious!

It has been a while since I have been able to get back to my wok in Hong Kong, but this last weekend I made up some time and tackled three recent recipes from the Wok Wednesdays schedule.

Barbeque Pork Lo Mein was a quick and easy dish that delivered great taste. This recipe comes from Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge page 273 and is part of the Wok Wednesday’s online cooking project that can be found on Facebook.

I purchased my BBQ pork at the barbeques stall near my house in the Central wet market. I also made BBQ pork from Grace’s recips in SFSE page 285. My version was not quite as good as that purchased, but not back for a first attempt. This is a simple stir-fry and a quick meal.

Choi Sum

Choi Sum


Choi Sum is a dark leafy green available all year in Hong Kong wet markets. I have always prepared choi sum steamed and with a little bit of vinegar, just like a spinach. This recipe from SSFE page 196 is excellent. The oyster sauce really enhances the flavor. You may find choi sum in US markets named Yau Choi. Same vegetable.
fresh Choi Sum

fresh Choi Sum

Return to Vietnam

Twelve years ago, we took a trip of a lifetime with our daughter and two friends. We traveled from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang to Hanoi, Vietnam. We ate fantastic food, and visited magical beaches, museums, ancient ruins, and rural villages. We also met two very good friends, Duong and Toai.

Da Nang Airport with Toai, Li, Steve, Jennifer and Duong

Da Nang Airport with Toai, Li, Steve, Jennifer and Duong

A lot has changed since that first visit. Vietnam is evolving and developing into a thriving country. And, Duong and Toai’s life changed in an instant when their daughter was killed in  a tragic bus accident on an icy Idaho road. Trang was the link between our families.She was studying in Boise and that is were we met. She introduced us to her parents and we visited and toured with them on our trip. It is bittersweet that our friendship with her parents was strengthened due to her death.

We met lots of family and friends and also made a trip to visit Trang’s tomb in Hue.

Toai's parents in Hue. Toai was born in this house.

Toai’s parents in Hue. Toai was born in this house.

A very special dinner with very good friends in Duong and Toai's home.

A very special dinner with very good friends in Duong and Toai’s home.

Duong meets with 10 ladies in Hue when ever she can. They have been friends for 49 years. It was an honor to spend the afternoon with them hearing stories and practicing English.

The Ladies of Hue with Steve at a dinner.

The Ladies of Hue with Steve at a dinner.

Tomb marker for Trang in Hue

Tomb marker for Trang in Hue

Da Nang is quickly becoming a destination for beach lovers. Resorts line the shoreline. The famous China Beach is a well-used public beach.

 

this is 6:00 a.m. on China Beach. There were thousands recreating so early in the morning.

This is 6:00 a.m. on China Beach. There were thousands recreating so early in the morning.

Da Nang is a river city. At least three new bridges have been built across the Han river in the last 10 years. Two of the bridges have been designed by Americans. The most impressive is the Dragon Bridge. It is beautiful in day and in night.

Dragon Bridge spanning the Han river in Da Nang

Dragon Bridge spanning the Han river in Da Nang

Some things have not changed much. One thing that we loved when we visited before was the basket boat. In Da Nang, there is still many basket boats in use.

Basket boats on the beach in Da Nang.

Basket boats on the beach in Da Nang.

 

There is so much more to the story of our experience in Vietnam. Future posts will chronicle. For now, we are enjoying the memory and and looking forward to returning in September.

 

Wok Wednesdays – Velvet Chicken with Asparagus

This recipe comes from Stir-Fry to The Sky’s Edge page 128 by Grace Young

Velvet Chicken and Asparagus

Velvet Chicken and Asparagus

My husband says, “This is the way to do chicken breast.” Steve is not a fan of chicken breast. He eats it because I prepare it wanting to create a more healthy dish. However, this dish requires very little oil and very little corn starch. The dish is very fresh if the asparagus is done correctly. It is easy to overcook. I chose to blanch and then put the asparagus in ice-cold water to stop the cooking. Also, we added our own sauces on the side. I added Indonesian sambal and Steve picked Vietnamese chili sauce to spice it up.  As always, very good recipe and great dish to eat!!

They payoff...plated Velvet Chicken with Asparagus

They payoff…plated Velvet Chicken with Asparagus

Wok Wednesdays – Hakka-Style Stir-Fried Cabbage with Egg

Teh finished dish.

The finished dish-Hakka-Style Stir-Fried Cabbage with Egg.

This recipe comes from the fabulous cookbook by Grace Young, Stir-Frying to The Sky’s Edge page 204. It is part of the Wok Wednesdays project which can be found on Facebook.

Today, in Hong Kong and China, is the festival for Ching Ming (tomb sweeping day). Steve is home from work, and we just spent a great week touring our new hometown with our first visitors to Hong Kong. We both have spent the morning catching up on email, finishing an online course and trying to organize all the photos we have taken recently.

Luckily, I remembered that I needed napa cabbage for the Wok Wednesday recipe this week, and picked some up on my way through the wet market near our flat. I decided to make the Hakka-Style Stir-Fried Cabbage with Egg (this week’s Wok Wednesday recipe) for a brunch.

Washed, chopped and ready to stir-fry.

Washed, chopped and ready to stir-fry.

The ingredients are simple, and the stir-fry is quite easy and very quick once you complete the prep work.

Teh final stage, add the egg and stir-fry until egg is cooked and mixed through

The final stage, add the egg and stir-fry until egg is cooked and mixed through

This is great comfort food and perfect for a light meal. We had leftover stir-fried rice from an outing earlier this week, and it complimented the cabbage dish nicely. I would also do as the recipe recommended; serve with plain white rice.

I have really been enjoying the stir-fried cabbage dishes from all of Grace Young’s books. They are reminicent of the German-style wilted lettuce salads that my mom used to make with leaf lettuce, bacon drippings and vinegar. I did add a sprinkle of rice vinegar to my bowl of the Hakka-Style Cabbage. It was a nice compliment and enhanced the flavors. Steve added a bit of hot and spicy Indonesian sambal (homemade from our dear friend Ari). It was also an excellent compliment to the dish.

The Hakka people are known as the gypsies of Asia. Their histroy has been nomadic. Portable kitchens and quick meals with simple ingredients are characteristic of many Hakka-style dishes. If you would like to know more, see Grace Young’s notes on The Hakka Diaspora on page 102 of Stir-Frying to The Sky’s Edge. Also, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakka_people for additonal information.

 

 

 

 

Wok Wednesdays – Stir-Fried Carrots with Chicken and Mushrooms

The recipe for this dish came from Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young page 134.

This is an excellent dish and easy to do. Like most wok recipes, your preparation is key to success. I used the dried mushrooms, and they definitely brought texture and added flavor to the dish.

Stir-Fried Chicken with Carrots and Mushrooms

Stir-Fried Chicken with Carrots and Mushrooms

The julienne of the carrots took a bit of time, but the technique that Grace describes in the book is great for getting the job done. In Hong Kong, we have monster-sized carrots. Even the imported carrots from Australia are huge. They are about 2.5 inches in diameter. I was put off by them at first, but tried them for this dish and they are very sweet and tender. The opposite of what I thought they would be.

Carrots just added to the wok

Carrots just added to the wok

The dried mushrooms are expensive, but I think it is worth the added cost. In Hong Kong they are in every wet market and medicinal shop. I opted to buy the middle price range. I was very happy with the flavor. The odor is strong on them, both dry and wet. The only problem I had was that there were a few that did not soften as much as the others. I think I will try to use boiling water next time.

Dried Chinese mushrooms

Dried Chinese mushrooms

Highly recommend this dish and use the dried mushrooms if you can. If you have kids, they will love eating the carrots.

 

 

Wok Wednesdays – Minced Pork In Lettuce Cups

This week’s Wok Wednesday’s recipe is Minced Pork in Lettuce Cups.  The recipe can be found in Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, by Grace Young.

We had another triumph with our Wok Wednesday meals. This was quite enjoyable, especially using fresh water chestnuts. I have never seen them, or paid that close attention to them, in the markets in the US, but they are plentiful in the wet markets of Hong Kong. They really add a nice crunch. No jalapenos available here (which the recipe calls for). I used red Thai chilies that are most common here. They added great zing.I would continue to use them.

Everything chopped and ready to go!

Everything chopped and ready to go! Oh yeah, there is a martini in the foreground!

Minced pork in the wok.

Minced pork in the final minute before plating.

The finished dish!

The finished dish!

I guess I should work on my presentation or get better at Photoshop! I just noticed that messy edge on the platter.

Photos I Love From The Last Six Weeks

Back from a six-week trip in the states over the holidays. Had a chance to spend a lot of good time with family and friends. Christmas at my sister’s was so much fun with Calvin in the mix. It was great to spend time with Kam in Oregon and Arizona. Managed to fit in a New Year trip to Boise. Made tamales. Hiked the Grand Canyon in freezing temps! We saw a lot of movies and ate a lot of food. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of my photos! Got to get a better system now that it is 2013! These are some of my favorites that I can find.

The Christmas feast of Dungeness Crab! A Thrall/Reichle/Thomas tradition.

The Christmas feast of Dungeness Crab! A Thrall/Reichle/Thomas tradition.

Looking at the lights.

Looking at the lights.

 

Kam knitted this great elf hat for Calvin.

Kam knitted this great elf hat for Calvin.

Calvin and his new shark backpack from Hong Kong!

Calvin and his new shark backpack from Hong Kong!

 

Relaxing over New Years at the Chambers. Melissa and Snug and my feet.

Relaxing over New Years at the Chambers. Melissa , Sirius, and Snug and my feet.

Always a lot of good food. Always fighting for the first and last bite!

Always a lot of good food. Always fighting for the first and last bite!

 

Logan and I made peanut butter balls together!

Logan and I made peanut butter balls together!

Two of my favorite old guys.

Two of my favorite old guys.

 

The Grand Canyon. Beautiful and cold weather. Going down.

The Grand Canyon. Beautiful and cold weather. Going down.

Crossing the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch.

Crossing the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch.

Hiking out. Starting before dawn. Cold morning.

Hiking out. Starting before dawn. Cold morning.

Tamale day at the Bauers. Everyone in the kitchen! Margaritas a flowing.

Tamale day at the Bauers. Everyone in the kitchen! Margaritas a flowing.