Friday, May 28, 2010

Awe

I have been visiting my parents while Jake is gone to China.  Every time I came in and out their front door this bird would fly right by.  It would fly so fast I couldn't see even what kind it was.  It kinda felt like the movie "The Birds".  I assumed it had made a nest in the eaves.  I could hear it chirp every once in awhile through the door.

Then my my dad (correction) my mom made a discovery.  Here is my parents' front door.  Looks innocent right?
Take a closer look.
Yep.  That is a nest built on top of the wreath.
AND there are 5 robin eggs in it.
We are no longer using the front door.
Can you imagine your home being so disrupted?
Hopefully the eggs are still fine.
I heard the momma bird this morning, so she is still coming back.
I am in awe.  I love spring.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lunches in China

This is the restaurant where we eat lunch (almost) every day.  It's good food, always served the way you see here.  You get a small bowl and chopsticks.  The first thing you do with the bowl is clean it with hot tea, then pour the tea into a common "trash bowl" along with the packaging from the chopsticks.  The circle in the middle of the table is a Lazy Susan, and there's a big bowl of plain white rice in the middle.  You just take what you want, put it in your bowl and eat it.  This works well for me because I can't remember what everything is called, so I just take a lot of what looks good and a little of what doesn't look good (gotta try everything once).  You can see some fried noodles (chow mein), tofu, cabbage, soup on the far side and some meat-and-veggies bowls.  The dark brown spot in the rice is like con-con in the Dominican Republic, just overcooked rice that was in direct contact with the bowl.
If you want tea, then eat what's in the bowl, pour tea in your bowl and drink.  Despite the heat, Chinese people drink scalding hot tea at lunch.  I drink a bottle of cold water before and after lunch.  Smokers use their bowl as an ashtray after eating.
In front of the restaurant there are a couple of tanks of fish.  These are probably 16 or 18 inches long each.  They don't bother to remove the bones, so you pull the bones out with chopsticks.  It's kind of a hassle, but good for your chopstickin' skills.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Poppin' in for a quick Toddler Snack

Here is another snack I made for Nellie.  Popcorn and sliced strawberries.  The strawberries were divine; the popcorn crunchy and fresh.  I make popcorn for snacks by putting about 3 Tbsp plain popcorn kernels in a brown lunch bag.  Then fold the top of the bag at least twice.  Put it in the microwave on high until you can count 2 seconds between pops.  Wah-lah!  You have healthy popcorn quickly and no mess.  Then you can save the "microwave popcorn" with it's added salts & "butter" for a once-in-awhile treat.

Monday, May 17, 2010

When I Dream in Chocolate Chip...

For a very long time I have been searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  I had a picture in my head and  it was so vivid I could almost taste them.  Chewy, but a bit of crunch.  One that spreads out in the oven and doesn't remain in a ball, but at the same time keeps a bit of height.  And every recipe I tried just wasn't it.

Until these.
They are divine.  They are perfect.  I am in love (as much as you can be with chocolate chip cookies).  I have even been offered chocolate chip cookies at different places and it was so easy to turn them down.  I know how to make the good stuff.  The calories in the others just aren't worth it.  I have found the recipe to crave any chocolate chip craving I ever have.

I found them at the King Aurthur Flour website.  They even guarantee it, whatever that means.  I did make two changes though.  I left the almond extract out.   I just don't need that flavor in my chocolate chip goodness.  And I used large milk chocolate chips; It is what I buy and I don't ever buy semi-sweet.

Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, right from the fridge, or at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
1 teaspoon vinegar, cider or white
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 cups semisweet (OR MILK) chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

1) In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter, shortening, salt, vanilla and almond extracts, vinegar, and baking soda, beating until smooth and creamy.

2) Beat in the egg, again beating till smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.

3) Mix in the flour, then the chips.

4) Use a spoon (or a tablespoon cookie scoop) to scoop 1 1/4" balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2" between them on all sides; they'll spread.

5) Bake the cookies for 11 to 12 minutes, till their edges are chestnut brown and their tops are light golden brown, almost blonde. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pan till they've set enough to move without breaking. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Enjoy.  And invite me over if you make some.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Little Italy in Americatown in China


This is the first time I've ever visited China. I've been here for three days and I'm already bored by the funny English street signs. Today I went to Shekou, at the south end of Shenzhen, to scout out the church building so I can go to church tomorrow. The neighborhood where I found the church (just a house) is kind of an Americatown, not unlike Chinatown in San Francisco. It was surreal to walk down streets with lots of trees and individual houses after being in the concrete jungle for the past three days. After I found the church, I walked around to figure out the bus system better and found an Italian restaurant.
I was happy to take a short break from travelling, so I went inside and had the lunch special, which was pizza and soup. Take a good look at this photograph.
Don't worry, I picked out the shells. That's their "Marinara Pizza" which has "tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and seafood", plus I added capers. This pizza was divine. After scraping the goodies out of the clams and mussels, and removing the shell from the shrimp, I ate one of the best pizzas of my life. The capers made a great contribution.

Oh, one more thing. I saw a homeless man today wearing nothing but Calvin Klien boxers. I didn't feel good taking a picture of a homeless guy, so take my word for it.

Ciao!

-Jake

On A Personal Note

No, this is not a urinal.

Yes, I have.

No, it wasn't that bad.

I dislike public toilets, and I always put two layers of toilet paper between me and the seat. No need here. I saw these squatters in Afghanistan, but never used them because we had regular toilets on base. Here at work, though, there's no other option. I thought it would be awful, but it's actually pretty OK. I saw a guy smoking
while squatting yesterday. Oh, and don't forget that this is a B.Y.O.T.P. kind of party.

-Jake

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Smiles

Helen had her first dentist appointment today.  She remembers how I was last time I went in for my dental surgery.  She kept telling me she was going to get her teeth fix.  I checked out a Berenstain Bears book at the library about the dentist for her last week and it talked about pulling teeth out.  Not really the encouragement I was looking for.  I was unsure how she was going to react, but was really hoping she would be a trooper and act in her good little manner as she always does at the doctor.  And she was!  She got a little nervous when the dentist came in after the hygienist because she hadn't seen him before.  But after he looked in my mouth she was willing to open hers.

Getting ready for the exam.
Looking inside her mouth with the mirror.
Polishing those pearly whites.
Helping the hygienist with the suction tool.
The hygienist handed her the tool and Helen knew exactly what to do.
She put it her mouth and closed her lips around it.
All done!  No cavities!  ALL SMILES!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Manhattan-Style Clam Chowder

I got this recipe out of a 5-ingredient meal magazine.  I can't figure out who put out the magazine.  The chowder is so easy to make and is yummy.



2 6.5-ounce cans minced clams
     I used chopped clams
2 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano, and garlic, undrained
       I used a can of plain diced tomatoes and added my own basil, oregano, and garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Drain canned clams, reserving juice.  If necessary, add enough water to reserved clam juice to equal 2 cups.  Set clams and juice aside.

2.  In a large saucepan, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings in pan.  Drain bacon on paper towels.  Break into crumbs when cool.

3.  Cook celery and onion in reserved drippings until tender.  Stir in the reserved clam juice and undrained tomatoes.  Add spices if you are using plain tomatoes.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Stir in clams, bacon, salt, and pepper;  Heat through and serve.

I served it with homemade bread sticks.  We all liked this chowder very well.  Jake thought it was perfect.  I thought it needed about 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of tomato paste to strengthen the broth.  Helen ate it, which it a positive vote in my book.  If you like clams, definitely give this recipe a try.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

March Went Out Like a Lion & April Was a Whirlwind



Before my Mother's Day post it had been awhile since I had posted simply because life was crazy!  March ended with multiple trips to the 'burg where my parents live while Jake was at drill.  It worked out well too, because I was able to go to the bridal shower and then Jake and I were able to go to the wedding of my best friend from high school.  It was great seeing her and celebrating this new chapter in her life.

When we got home from that our toilet was in need of a minor repair.  Jake went and told our landlords and they said they'd come in the morning.  Perfect.  Then they called back and said they were able to get the part and wanted to fix it that night.  Ended up having to break old part to get it out.  Ended up being wrong part.  Ended up the 15 minute job was now taking over an hour.  Landlord found store still open to get part.  While gone Jake and cleaned the toilet tank and wall that had probably never been cleaned, it for sure had never been painted since the toilet was installed.

Ended up part broke in during reinstalling.  It was 10:00 by now.  All hardware stores were closed.  Helen was not even close to interested in bed - way too much excitement going on.  Landlord used some other kind of pipe from air conditioning unit.  Somehow it worked, but leaked.  We could use toilet, but had to flush with bucket until morning when he came back with parts.  What a night.







Then April turned into a huge whirlwind of a month.  It started of with April Fool's day.  I changed the color milk to purple.  I had more planned, but it just didn't work out.

During breakfast I took a sedative pill and then Jake got me to the dentist to have new gums (okay not new...but I still don't like to think about the fact that they were someone else's old gums,so new to me) grafted into my mouth.  The rest of the day was a blur and I remember pieces like the TV noise during the dentist appointment was bothering me really bad and Jake took Helen to school with him afterward while I "watched" Norah as I slept off the drugs....and I get to do it all again in 6 months on the other side of my mouth.  Speaking of teeth, Norah cut her first tooth middle of March and her second a couple of days later.

Easter was terrific.  I loved watching conference that weekend.  Jake's sister and her husband were with us the whole weekend and that was fun.  On Saturday Helen needed some coaxing on the whole Easter Bunny thing.  She was preoccupied on who put bunny footprints in her room.  But eventually we got her out of there.  Norah pretty much was happy to play with the paper bunny footprints.


















On Sunday, we made an awesome Easter dinner.  I had been dying to make Easter egg bread for years.  Hoped it would be a tradition.  It probably won't be.  The eggs don't cook all that well, and they were kinda weird.  The bread was good though.  Other scrumptious elements of the meal were pears with raspberries, creamed spinach, citrus-glazed ham, hot crashed potatoes, and green & wax beans.















Then around the corner came Baby Animal Days.  It was tons of fun to go out as a family.  Helen got to pet a bear cub.  How cool is that!  AND Jake took a picture of me, so I actually will be recorded as going to a family outing other than being the one behind the camera.
















We planted some tomato and pea seeds.  Between Helen, Norah, Cooper (my parents' new dog who came to visit), and everyday life...the seedlings might not survive.

My dad's cows had new calves.  Helen loved them.

Norah wasn't so sure.

By this time of the month, Helen's birthday was a happening.

She got a new PINK trike.

We had a PURPLE cake with hearts, stars, dress up shoes, & purses made of fondant.

The next weekend my parents came to celebrate with a picnic at the park.  The wind wouldn't let us light the candle on our picnic so we told Helen to pretend to blow it out.  Thanks for coming down Grandpa & Grandma Nani!

Then we celebrated with Jake's family at the usual Sunday dinner.  And I forgot to take any pictures.  Helen thought everyday was going to be her birthday.  She also thinks Christmas is coming soon because it won't quit snowing.  Should have never told her Christmas comes when it snows again.  I thought spring was finally really here.  How in the world am I suppose to teach seasons in this kind of weather. "Uh so we live in winter all year.  Other lucky people in other parts of the world have seasons."

At the end of the month, Jake and I started de-junking and rearranging our apartment.  Part of the reason was to allow space where Jake could bring home his helicopters and work on them from home.  In the middle of the shift he didn't have much room.  He ended up sitting on a tool box in a crowded corner trying to work on his computer.

We got the apartment mostly cleaned up just in time for Jake to leave on a new adventure yesterday.  He is doing an internship in China for a month.  He should be there by now, but we haven't heard from his as of yet.

It's a busy life, but I am enjoying the most part of it.

Wow!  That was a whirlwind just posting about the last month.



I have a lot of food posts coming up.  Now that I am on my own after the girls head to bed, I may be able to catch up on those.  So stay tuned.

Mission Organize Apartment