Friday, June 19, 2015

The Travelling Nutmeg: 神圣葡萄! Holy Grapes!

I grew up picking my own fruit from my own garden planted by my parents hands....Hahaha got you! But only-child syndrome aside, the concept of paying to pick your own fruits at an organic farm is very appealing. Not just for the health benefits but the entire experience.

At first glance, I knew I would enjoy my trip Bishan Vineyard. I immediately felt like I was back home in the hills again with the greenery, piercing white clouds in the blue sky and crispy breeze.

In order to welcome us, we were treated to Chinese cultural performance like fire-breathing and mask changing Sichuan drama, modern dance and local opera. I remember when I first moved to China and expected everything to look like a scene out of a karate movie. Now that I know better, I appreciate the traditional shows of culture when I encounter them.

Fire Breathing and Mask Changing Sichuan Drama

Local Opera
Modern Dance

This was followed by a pageant where young university students vied for the title of Queen of the Vineyard. The competition got close during the talent section. Portraits, poetry, traditional calligraphy and Indian dancing showed just how serious the ladies were about their craft. This girl knew how to arrest these grapes with grace and poise.

Queen of the Bishan Vineyard 2015

And speaking of style, it seems the grapes aren't the only things from France...

Fan Bing Bing, famous Chinese actress, at Cannes Festival 2015
Of course a fruit festival is never a complete without an eating competition, right?! My friends came second and third place winning 300 and 200 RMB and a local went home with 500 RMB (80US) and complimentary box of the top notch grapes. Just for finishing a plate of grapes without using hands. Why do people even work anymore?

Sorry I couldn't do that to my friends.

But here are the winning grapes, Summer Black
Then we got to the reason we were really there-to pick grapes. Although there are a variety of grapes available, we were brought to the section of the vineyard specially grown for this moment. Organic, slightly sweet because of the early season, and bursting with flavour.

Every Chongqing vineyard comes with a local restaurant that allows you taste authentic Sichuan cuisine and here was no different. Every dish was 'soaked in chilli and prickly ash' and for the first time in a long time, I struggled to finish a spicy meal.

I spent more time with the fish which was more plainly seasoned and were reared in the pool right outside the door.

In China, it is very common for customers to have a brief meet and greet with their dinner in a nearby fishing tank. But the pool afforded these guys much freedom and they simply carried their party elsewhere every time we showed up.

But it was made up by spotting this beauty on the way out. I haven't seen this tree since my days growing up and learning the hard way not to play with everything you see.

Also located in Bishan is one of five Lourdes churches in China. And just amazing is the fact that it's still standing in the midst of many other church demolitions throughout the country.

The property is quite huge and filled with beautiful scenery. Most of the buildings have been converted to tourist sites but for a 100 year place, very spiffy.

The close proximity of a vineyard and church may or may not be coincidence but both places were life-changing in their own way. This Travelling Nutmeg will note this visit under Spiritually defining.

John 10:7-9  Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's in my rice cooker?: Lasagna

What is a rice cooker you ask? It's a wonderful kitchen appliance which allows you to cook rice to perfection without the stirring and babysitting. It originated in Japan but like any item of convenience spread beyond  the Asian continent into the Western world. In spite of all that, I never encountered one in the Caribbean and it was quite the surprise to me. It reminded me of the Anansi story of the magical pot that cooked any food at command. 

After using a rice cooker for four years, I wished I knew of this as sooner. Unlike the name suggests, rice isn't the only food that you can cook in this. Once you understand the mechanical working of a simple rice cooker, you can manipulate it into anything: pot, deep fryer, steamer etc. Basically the cooking takes place in a removable metal container which is surrounded by an insulated pot. The metal container presses on a spring which controls the thermostat and responds to temperature change. When the contents are in place, heating is activated. When the food is cooked (all the water has evaporated into steam and the metal container temperature begins to exceeds 100 C) the thermostat responds by releasing the spring and altering the cooker to warm setting of 65 C.

As a college student, having one pot with the ability to cook everything, besides one pot meals, is a relief. So let's get into dish numba one. Lasagna baby. 

Honestly you don't need a special recipe or particular adjustment. Just prepare it exactly as you would for an oven lasagna and watch out for the extra fragile structure.

After second meat layer

After final meat layer
There you go!!

Look out for more in this series...Up next Home Made Yogurt!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bite me: 自助火锅 Hot Pot Buffet

If you are a foreigner living in Chongqing and you have been invited to the mid-week hot pot dinner, you have truly made it my friend. If you're the one doing the inviting, why are you even calling yourself a foreigner? Point is Chongqing isn't called the oven city for nothing. You better be eating hot pot three to four times a week with your family, co-workers and the random foreigner you met yesterday and what better way to do it than at a 'All You Can Eat' Hot Pot Buffet.

Thing is, when in comes to Hot Pot, it isn't about eating to be satiated. It's about conversation, reconstructing the day's highs and lows, recalling memories and making new ones , coming up with new theories of life or just junk talk. In the midst of that, the last thing you want is food to run out. So this buffet is the perfect source of fuel.

The variety of raw food is limitless. Greens, meat, fungus, tubers of every kind is cleaned, chopped and ready to enter the red hot lava of a soup.

1. Mushroom 2. Black  Fungus 3. Lettuce
 4. Cucumber and Tofu Skin 5. Black Soy Bean Tofu 6. Bamboo
7. Cuts of Pork 8. Seaweed 9. Processed Seafood

Then there are the organ parts and blood, mainly pig sourced, because thou shalt not waste right:?

Or if you really, really, do want your food cooked first, don't worry. They got you covered.

Top row:  Stewed duck and chicken
Bottom row: Fried beef, cucumber, peanuts

Next important step is creating dipping sauce, vinaigrette in a sense, to add flavour to the food after it's cooked. Every time the food dipped in the sauce, the chilli flavour of the hot pot mixes in, taking it to another level.

From L-R: Mono-sodium Glutamate, Vegetable Oil, Seasoning Salt, Crushed Garlic in Oil,
Back: Black Vinegar
Not Pictured: Fresh Chopped Chive

And of course, after eating, there is always space for desert. See the small cuts of meat and vegetables are designed to keep you feeling stuffed, way back in the history of Chinese cuisine. So feel free to splurged on fruit, moon-cakes, fried peanuts and the like.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bite Me: Grilled Sausage

A traditional grilled sausage is usually served in a bun as a hot dog, but here in Chongqing, the sausage goes from grill to the skewer and brushed with pepper flakes.

These grilled sausages can be found near any juice or fruit shop usually near bus stations and supermarkets as a ready to go snack. They are usually sweet and make of pork. 

And just like a Tootsie Roll, in a couple of indefinite bites, before you can even put your change away, it comes to a swift end.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Indonesians taught me: 末茶糖霜 Green Tea Matcha Frosting

I have a large stack of tea of my dresser which proves just how much Chinese love tea. No not me. Chinese. Every time I visit my professors I am offered a cup of 茶 cha, and when I compliment them on the clean and flavorful taste, I'm blessed with a couple packets or boxes. It took me a while, but I finally realized that I should just shut up and drink the tea.

Truth is I am more of a 'bush girl'. My grand-aunt always knew the right herbs to brew for ailments or just simply breakfast. Big thyme, Sage, Lemon-grass and those others that shall remain nameless but effective. Yes, I forgot their names. Blame the language hurdles. But by the time I moved here, I got so passionate about drinking hot water that I slowly lost the passion for tea. So when my friend asked me for a birthday cake with green tea flavor as the only requirement, I was like

What was green tea doing in baking goods? When did this happen? Sure enough google confirmed this. A closer look at that green-coloured cake in the local bakery proved the theory of selective hearing or in this case, selective sight. I was obviously out of my depth here. So I enlisted some help from my Indonesians sisters, connoisseurs of all these cute, sweet, and turning everything into a party and came up with this.

Green Tea Matcha Frosting

1 1/2-2 cups icing sugar
1 cup butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
5 tsp Green Tea Matcha powder *
2 tbsp milk

* So the basis of a buttercream frosting is butter and sugar proportions usually  of 1:4. These have to be adjusted when you add green tea powder. Since the flavor of my powder wasn't as strong as expected, more matcha meant more butter. It may not be the same it your case so be open to experimenting.

1. Blend softened butter and icing sugar until smooth. Mix in vanilla.

2. Add Matcha powder teaspoon by teaspoon until you taste the perfect balance of vanilla and green tea.

3. Slowly add milk until you achieve your desired consistency

+ The cake was a vanilla box cake which I coloured red and white trying to mimic the Indonesian flag. Big fail. The fact that the oven only heated at the bottom and I didn't realized until four cakes later didn't faze me either. I am so over naughty ovens and throwing kitchen tantrums. It may not look like my perfect chocolate cake but it tasted heavenly and that is no exaggeration. The cute minions were also specially requested. This will hopefully be my last time manipulating fondant without tools #whosaidyouneedagymforarmday #mytonedarmsproveotherwise #flotuslookout

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quick Fix: Gym Snack Hack

The only feeling more consuming that the high from a good run, is the immediate fatigue. And you need food ready to plug into the system. That's where red Dragon fruit steps up. And just for the record, I have nothing against the white version. Except there more phenols and other antioxidants this species.

After cardio exercises, the body needs water, simple sugars and electrolytes to recharge. Depending on where your fruit was grown you can get up to 85-89g of Moisture, 8-12g of Carbohydrates, 13-26mg of Magnesium, 158g-437mg Potassium, 14-35mg Sodium, 85-890ug Vitamin A, 8-9mg Vitamin C from every 100g.  This is an energy drink in pink wrapping paper without the calories and loads of sugar.

Just before your session, place in freezer for a lil chill and when it's time, eat with a spoon. No peeling or clean up required.

Do you have any favorite gym snacks? Drop a line in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quick fix: Ready made dumplings

Today was a lazy, bean soup kinda day *cue Bruno Mars*. The secret to good soup? Throwing the fridge in there. So what happens when the fridge is on strike except for 2 day old gnocchi? Welcome potato dumplings!

Since they usually only need about 4 minutes to cook, I waited until the soup was almost at my point of readiness to add half cup of gnocchi. As they were store-bought, they were already salted. Something to consider.

And just like that, soup has been saved. Hallelujah!