Tropical desserts

If there’s one thing I love, it’s dessert. In fact, when I was a kid, I swore I had two stomachs — a dinner stomach, and a much larger dessert stomach.

There are a bunch of foods I really miss from back home, but there are definitely some perks to living near Southeast Asia, namely, cheap tropical fruits.

The other day, I made my own mangoes and sticky rice. Actually, it was just white rice cooked in coconut milk, sugar and a little vanilla. Jeff bought the mangoes off the street, and I think they’re not quite in season yet, they were a little… bleachy? But still, this was a delicious and relatively guilt-free dessert.

Even more common than mango is pineapple. Street sellers carve pineapple and skewer it on a stick so you can eat delicious, pineapple “popsicles.” You can also get pre-skinned, swirly-carved pineapples on the street for cheap.

Since I had a bunch of coconut flakes that Jeff bought on impulse, I made a coconut pineapple cake. It was pretty decadent, and definitely not healthy. I actually found it a little too sweet, but it tasted better the longer it stayed in the fridge. The recipe is here.

I didn’t have cake flour or corn syrup and made interesting substitutions. You can add corn starch to all-purpose flour to make cake flour, but I also didn’t have that, so I added corn flour. Ok, I knew they were different, but I figured it was sort of similar. Since I didn’t have corn syrup for the icing, I used lemon, and the icing turned our fine. Jeff really made fun of me when he found out how I substituted for those things. I also had to make a square cake because I didn’t have cake pans. If you make this, consider cutting the sugar — it was way too sweet — and adding more pineapple layers. Actually, I wouldn’t even ice the cake if I made it again. The pineapple and the cake itself are both sweet enough already.

A news comparison

The atmosphere has been a little tense in Beijing lately, because this year is the so-called 6521 year. It has the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China founding, 50th anniversary of China’s quashing of the Tibetan uprising, 20th anniversary of the 1989 student democracy protests at Tiananmen Square and the 10th anniversary of the banning of the Falun Gong. Needless to say, in tense times, foreigners like myself start to feel a little nervous, because our rights amount to nil here when it comes down to it.

I found this contrast of coverage of the recent incident between a US naval ship and Chinese navy interesting.

Here is the first New York Times article. And here’s the updated version.

Here is the Xinhua state-run news agency’s article.

Naturally, I’m sure there are better places to look for Chinese news, and the New York Times may be an unfair comparison (should I be comparing to FOX perhaps?). In fact, at a talk the other night about censorship on the Internet in China, a Chinese author noted that many Chinese turn to blogs and Internet news before the traditional state-run channels like CCTV and newspapers.

Regardless, I still think it’s interesting to look at the bias on both sides, though it is a little depressing and unsettling. How can I comfortably straddle two continents when our leaders can’t hear each other through their own rhetoric?

On a lighter note, here’s the front page, top fold of several websites (please click to enlarge):

China, note the soup story is top fold.

FOX News:


The bounty of Spring

Spring is just around the corner in Beijing, with high temperatures of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the past week. The sun has been out every day, and I’ve been really enjoying the foods that have come around.

Beijing has these really pathetic, anemic strawberries for sale on the street, that I have been avoiding for weeks because strawberries should be red, not white with red patches. But the other day, I finally tried one and found that they are delicious. I guess the adage that the uglier a strawberry is, the better it tastes holds true in Beijing as well as in California. In fact, Beijing strawberries taste far and away better than California Safeway strawberries. I was surprised, because I didn’t think that China could really beat California at much besides cancer rates and pollution/toxic waste poisoning, but it turns out that the Sichuan region turns out a mean strawberry, and cheap too! Street berries are 9 kuai per pound.

Here is what we had for dinner the other day: Feta cheese and broccoli sauce pasta, coleslaw, and strawberries with vanilla yogurt.

Jeff bought me some strawberries yesterday, which are much prettier and consequently less tasty than the street berries. He also ate a lot of strawberries at several friends’ homes, and came down with a mean case of food poisoning because of it. So, for now my new berries are on probation in the fridge. But they sure are pretty!

I might make jam or some kind of sauce out of them — at any rate it’s a good idea to cook them I think. I ate some without problems, but you don’t want to get 拉肚子 when you’re out and about every day.

The Unappealing truth

I have three vegetable peelers:

The first veggie peeler came with a knife set. The set included three knives, a peeler and a small cutting board for 35 kuai, so I wasn’t expecting much from it. It at least took off skins plus chunks of flesh, but more because of blunt force on my part than it’s own merit.

Needless to say, I thought I could trade up, so I went to the market and bought the most expensive peeler there (about 8 kuai). Since there aren’t any recognizable brand names — miss those Oxo Good Grips kitchen utensils! — when in doubt, pay more. If possible, this peeler was even worse than the first one. The pivoting head made it impossible to aim, and it wiggled all over my vegetables, hardly removing any skin at all.

But it’s number three that finally made me crack. I bought number three at HEC, the restaurant supply store. Figuring all their peelers would be decent since they supply the pros, I got the second-most expensive peeler. It was about 4 kuai, and the most expensive one was over 30 kuai. When I got home, I was barely able to contain my anticipation of using it to easily peel several pounds of potato for potato leek soup. I took up my first potato, and slide the peeler along the skin — and nothing came off. I mean, the peeler didn’t even make a little slice in the skin. It grazed off of it as as if I was attempting to peel the potato with a kitten. Frustrated, I pushed harder, angling the blade more — still nothing. Finally, close to rage, I dug the peeler in and liberated a chunk of skin plus a large hunk of potato.

Disgusted, I threw the disgraced peeler in the trash, and moved on to my tried and true method of peeling veggies:

About a minute later, I pulled it out of the trash, penitent, took a picture, and promised myself to blog about my wayward peelers.

That’s one thing about China — you really can’t take shortcuts we take for granted in the States, and the weirdest things give you a new perspective on life. It’s actually kind of liberating to realize you don’t really need all those fancy tools and premixed foods; all you need is patience and elbow greese. It surprises me how many recipes call for premade ingredients that I just can’t get — premade doughs, cake mixes, spice mixes, bread crumbs… the list goes on and on. But it’s been really fun experimenting with the abundance of fresh ingredients I can get. I’ve made homemade apple sauce, bread, pasta sauces, whipped stiff egg whites without a mixer (admittedly poor Jeff did the heavy lifting on that), made my own chilis and curries — and it’s all been a really fun adventure. I don’t even mind peeling my veggies with a knife, with the exception of apples, whose round shape is the devil’s work.