Wednesday, May 6, 2015

真的吗: Top five cinema essentials in China

All cinemas around the globe hold one thing true....over-priced food and beverages. They have led the common man to ban together in the smuggling of contraband under the watchful eyes of security cameras. When I should be sporting a lady-like clutch purse so that my outfit can be on point, I'm usually lugging a jockey bag like a bootlegger. None the less, adapting is what I do, especially for the sake of food.

In addition to upgrading my bag, I have refined my list of necessities. Hello! While you guys are enjoying mind blasting trailers, I'm over here trying to survive through advertisements for orthopaedic doctors and the latest household appliances. (What age group are they expecting anyway?). I'm usually finished with half my popcorn by then. If it's an action movie and most times it is, delivery speed of food to mouth is directly proportional to the acceleration of people falling out of sky-scrapers. Now that we have established the situation, let's get to the things that keep my sanity.

1. Random food

I really should eat dinner BEFORE I go the movies but it never occurs to me I'm going to the cinema until I'm there. So I usually scout around quickly to stock up on fries, chicken wings, a couple steamed buns and spicy tofu. Kinda like Bonita '2words' Brown in 'Things Blacks folks say at Weddings'

2. Water

I have to admit that cinema popcorn is the best. And until I master that perfect caramel coating there is no point of sneaking mine in. But just like the super salty pretzels on the streets of NY, they get me really thirsty. And it's much easier to carry that 1 L bottle than pay twice the price for it.

3. Wet wipes

Like I have to explain.

4. Perfume

Every good undercover agent has a back-up plan. Mine is spraying and eating cuz steamed bun and spicy tofu are polluting the atmosphere and I need to cover my tracks.

5. Tissues

In romance movies or drama, of course I'll drop a couple water markers. But Fast 7 caught me off-guard. I was audibly sobbing. And what's worst, most of the movie goers didn't seem to know the Paul Walker story and were walking out *SPOILERS* during the beach scene. I lost it and screamed my head off at their lack of sensitivity. Nope. I put on my thug shades and was very grateful my row cleared out just before the big waves broke against my eyelashes. All that to say, never assume you won't need tissues during an action movie. Always be prepared. #GirlGuideHonour

What are your top five cinema essentials? Don't tell me you go to the cinema empty-handed 
*drops jaw* 
I'm alone in this? 
Don't leave me hanging. Share below :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Melissa + Google + 1 year taught me: The Perfect Chocolate Cake

Ever fought with a kitchen appliance? I spent my first year of baking in battle with a toaster oven. I would burn the top of my cakes trying to cook the inside because the temperature could not be adjusted. Then I covering the batter with tins or aluminium foil for the majority of the baking time and uncovering around the last ten minutes for a golden-brown crust. Yes, I can be a bit slow and stubborn but this is the only time I will admit it. When I realized I didn't want to stop baking, I finally invested in a proper oven last year. It was Easter and so naturally, I spent the entire day baking bread, cakes and buns.

One of these cakes was supposed to be a birthday present for my dear Congolese sister. You have to understand. Finding a chocolate bar that doesn't taste like brown lard (Mom, forgive me) is very hard. Finding a real chocolate cake, even harder. Cheese, butter and chocolate are not originally part of Chinese culture, and I accept that. But is that really going to stop a foreign student  from wanting a rich, moist chocolate cake for their birthday? And so the pressure was upon me. Google provided me with 'The Best Chocolate Cake'  from and 'Moist Chocolate Cake' by both with amazing pictures, clear directions and awesome reviews. How was I to choose? Well I didn't have espresso and I preferred baking with butter so Foodess it was. But even after all that research I ended up with

Who keeps records of their traumatic moments?
Show me yours and I still won't have one to show you.

Half of the cake remained in the tin and had to be reattached with frosting. See, had I read the comment section carefully, which I did after, I would have realized that it was not optional to bake two separate layers. Because this cake really rises. The vinegar I used in the buttermilk reacting with the baking soda should have been a hint. I had really let my friend and myself down. It tasted moist as promised and that was the only thing that saved it from hitting the bottom of a trash pan. (Cake pops hadn't been popularized in China yet).

I promised myself to make it up to her and I had a year to practice. I did cake after cake, all far from good. I thought I had inherited a baking curse and in some way I had. I either put way less sugar, didn't wait for the vinegar to coagulate the milk, had faulty vinegar but still went ahead, didn't sift and mix in the baking soda evenly and the list goes on. It was the curse of messing with the recipe. Self, if you are going to alter stuff, at least avoid the main ingredients.

But the curse was about to be broken. I woke up fresh on a Saturday morning not knowing what would happen but just that P.O.P was gonna hold it down that day. I also spent the previous night arming myself with Cake FAQs  from KitchenTigress, who by the way is true to the name. If you visit her website, you better be serious about baking and learning the right way to bake or else.

I followed the recipe as closely as I could (oil instead of butter, could you blame a girl?), properly lubricated my tins, equally distributed the batter and digested my heart while waiting. Actually, I busied myself with a new project. Fondant roses. Have you tried manipulating fondant without any tools what so ever? If you are not living a minimalist lifestyle, expect to feel like you survived a bar fight.

I have Desserts101 to thank for this tutorial. Not bad for a first timer if I must say so myself. Totally worth spraining my fingers and hurting my shoulders. I am buying the tools next time.

As soon as the inserted tooth-pick came out clean, I removed the cake from the oven and used Melissa's technique of slightly air bouncing the tin until the cake loosened from the bottom. Then I used KitchenTigress' tip of placing the cake face-down to fill in the cracks. By the time it came to frosting, I had 2 perfectly level, crack-less cakes. No rehab necessary.

Then I put together all the other skills that Google, Pinterest and Youtube taught me during the year, along with a Vietnamese angel and came up with this. 

A cake I could be proud of!

Is this blog post a shout-out? Maybe, but I think it's more of a thank you to all who contributed to me getting here. I grew up always wanting to do things my own way but since I have become more open to receiving help from others, I have stopped, you know, roasting things I didn't mean to roast. Hey, Google is there for a reason. There isn't an answer you can't find or a forum that wouldn't help you out. Being a student out here in China, all I have is Google especially when time zone difference prevents me from calling Mom. So to the hundreds of people who helped me bake the Perfect Chocolate Cake....

Thank you and God bless your beautiful Chocolaty Souls!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Quick Fix: 学生抗镇定剂 Student Anti-Depressants

I started this day at 5:00 am with lots of hope. The dreary rains of yesterday were trickling its last drops but just enough so that I could wear  my cute rain-boots without looking like el niño and la niña.

But while the sunshine came out, the storms of my life were acting up. And since we are supposed to be stronger than our circumstances, I took that strength, walked myself to the nearest supermarket and stock up on some anti-depressants....

......which in retrospect should have contained less sugar. But hey, my mind was in quite the fog. What we have here is, the only vanilla-flavoured  ice cream on the shelf, copy cat kit-kat, fake Oreos (those with the Chinese characters are a bit on the bleached side less chocolaty) and fortunately, genuine tasting M&Ms.

Please note: there are no rules!!! That's how our day got messed up in the first place.....nuts, jelly beans, dried fruits, corn (it's a chinese thing but trust me!!), just stuff the pain away with random food in overdosed proportions.

For these crushed Oreos, take all the pent-up frustrations, grab the nearest object and crash it sounds like my childhood whooping grab a cup and knock gently against a bag filled with Oreos until they fall apart. That should be enough. And visit a MMA class near you as soon as possible.

Don't keep the ice-cream out too long or you'll have to delay the fun times.....

Now embrace a sugar high as you forget the troubles of the day......

P.S. If you can't handle your sugar, stay in ya room. No one likes a sugar junkie!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bite me: 油条 Fried Sticks

It's safe to say that a important component of Caribbean cuisine is a good fried dough. With names like bakes, floats, johnny cake, festival, fried dumpling you could imagine the confusion when crossing regional borders and having to order breakfast.

Chinese keep it simple. It's directly translated as Oil Stick 油条 which brings to mind a steel pipe covered in old car grease. But don't let the Chinglish scare you. It's actually much more appealing than this.

As you can see from the texture, it's a bit more chewy and puffy especially if cold. This comes from the proportions of flour and water (the dough is very wet when made) and the use of oil instead of butter or lard that Caribbean natives may be used to. It is also very light on salt.

Unlike in the Caribbean, I have never been served this at home. But it is extremely popular at our cafeteria and on the street with rice porridge, boiled or fried egg and pickled vegetables. But only for breakfast. I usually go for a simple steamed bun so this seems to be for those who need a heavy, hearty meal to keep them through the day.

Breakfast from the Cafeteria

When my mom fried bakes at home, I was known to make up to 20 disappear in one sitting. Ours are the flat disc-shaped ones and size was never an issue but you won't catch me eating so many oil sticks now. I mean it's not like Moms is hovering over the bowl waiting to slap away my impatient fingers...but... There is no salted cod here, at least any that appropriate for souse or fish cakes. The last time I smuggled carried some was like a year ago when I tried to fit the whole of Grenada in my suitcase. And what is bakes without salted fish?

Honourary Fish Cake

However, recently my palette has shown signs of softening up, so don't be surprised if you see some new combinations in the near future.

What are your favorite side dishes to bakes, festivals and fried sticks? Let me know below.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

International Bake Date: Spring 2015

When your weekend starts with Kazakhstan chocolate and real Parmigiano cheese, just know it will be awesome. But before we get to that...If you are a foreign student like myself, the first conversations you had with now friends would have been something like "I have never heard of your country in my life." "Is it on the map?". Fortunately, everyone is so used to this prelude that we don't get offended and we go on to have fun-filled memories. Another thing that bonds us together is discovering mutual loves such as baking.

So finally against the odds of times and location,last weekend, we held the second ever International Bake Date. The first time around Namibian and Grenadian baking talents clashed in the form a tie-dye cake, apple pie and banana bread. This time we spread far and wide to capture the baking spirit of the continents. Everyone brought a recipe to try, some native to country, some native to taste, and all native to experimentation with substituted ingredients.


Bonjour, Bonjour! Qu'est-ce que c'est? It's Madeleines. So my Congolese sister grew up on these soft, buttery cakes and they taste like something that would be sold out of a bakery within its first half hour on the shelf. That kind of home-made sophistication. I mean look at that golden crust! The heart of this recipe lies in the proportions of butter and powdered sugar which we had to make here.


If you like After Eight ice cream, you should love this cake. (Am I the only one who often mistakenly ordered after-eight for pistachio as a kid?) So this cake, in addition to minty green chocolate, includes coconut. Anybody in love with the coco? I have mad respect for my Italian sis here. And not just because she fed me cheese. She took lots of creative measures to source chocolate, mint and coconut and her substitutions qualifies her to be my partner on my future Amazing Race appearance. That show is still in on the air right? You know I live outside of civilization.

Check the recipe out and substitutions here.


So we tasted this cake at a friend's house and after hastily scribbling the recipe on the back of a old receipt, we swore we would try it before we left china. For the first time, a method over taste caught my attention. My friends, this cake was boiled, BOILED! And it tasted amazing. For more details on how to make this cake, read Scotland taught me.


This where it all started. This chick and I were always exchanging recipes, figuring out how to bake in one temperature ovens and naming desserts after ourselves. But she is the real boss. Anything she combines taste homey and right. I call it the Namibian essence. I really wish she would bottle it already. Anyway, since we love her apple pie so much, she made this Norwegian Apple Cake. It was her first time and it was on point.


I've done this before here. Because of the fresh pineapple juice, it still remains the softest and most moist cake I have even baked. But I need to find those maraschino cherries.


What a coincidence! Around the same time we started baking, our Vietnamese friends came into the kitchen with a strong dough nut game. I need these sprinkles in my life.

Look out this Summer for the last International Bake Date. More cakes, more countries!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Travelling Nutmeg: 黑山谷 Black Mountain Valley

Black Mountain Valley is one the most popular tourist sites in the South West of China and probably the closest I'll get to a World Heritage Site for now. It is located in Wansheng city which actually was previously part of Sichuan. I, of course, only figured this out after travelling 6 hours and 4 buses to get there. You know saying that a good mountain is hard to find but totally worth it when you do? Yea neither do I, but obviously they need to make one.

After spending almost 5 years in China and speaking Mandarin, and being surrounded by so many international tongues, I can say with complete confidence the language doesn't cut it. There are some heights of creative expressions that language is not equip to climb, emotional depths of awe that cannot be captured in its five-dimensional phrases . But I have made peace with that. Because what language cannot achieve, nature does on its own. Black Mountain Valley does this in every carving and crevice, every dip and turn.

I felt insignificant yet part of something greater than myself. The sun chased us and the waters guided us pass many landmarks; The Wishing Tree where locals would visit every year and the Bamboo ledge where the legend of the healing bamboo sticks may come to life.

Wishing Tree

Bamboo Ledge

Each part of the valley presented a new face of creation. I couldn't help but reflect on age versus maturity. This valley was a clear revelation that only through life's experience can one flow with confidence and truly welcome every colour and hue that the sunlight brought out in you.

Suspensions bridges, arches, floating walkways added to the mysticisms and adventure along the
 15 km hike especially as the sun began to set.

Even the low water levels, due to the change in weather patterns, couldn't stop you from admiring the Yam Falls or any of the other 75 waterfalls along the valley. Formations like the Cow Head and Dragon Rock were easier to view and appreciate too.

I'd be lying if I said this hike was easy. Especially since I accidentally started at the bottom of the mountain, instead of the top (insert expected Drake reference here). But really, wouldn't you think the North Gate started at the mountain top too? Either way, the first 10 km or so were flat but then turned into a steep incline for 3 km. Then just like that I saw cable cars floating through the trees. A saving grace really, because it was 6 pm and we were about to be locked in. And then we would have to find out if the legend of the Dragon rock was actually true.

Are you sorry there is no food in this post? 
Don't worry! Look out for tips about eating while hiking in the future!