Happy Lunar New Year

This time the date really crept up on me and I didn’t even have a chance to send my friends in China an appropriate greeting.  I am sending this in hopes that they will know that I have not forgotten them.

I WISH YOU ALL A PROSPEROUS AND PEACEFUL YEAR OF THE RAT!

Now, since I didn’t have time to go shopping for materials for an extravagant New Year dinner, I searched through the freezer and, low and behold, a six pack of small quail.  This week I had received an email from The Woks of Life and they had numerous (25) recipes suitable for the New Year celebration and there was a squab recipe among them.

Now the squab shown in the recipe is a lot larger than the quail, but they will work just fine. As I write this, they have been simmered and are now sitting in the front of a fast fan to dry off for the maltose vinegar sauce to start drying on them.

This year we decided to keep the dinner simple.  For a start, we will have a homemade Chinese noodles (wheat, no egg) in noodle soup. I made a large batch of noodles, again from Woks, and froze half of them. After the soup, which also was the broth for simmering the quail, we will move on to the quail, rice, bok choy, shredded daikon salad, sliced tomatoes, cucumber salad and for dessert a sweet rice balls and tapioca in a coconut cream (soup).

I feel like my Chinese friends will think me a poor housewife with such a simple meal for the holiday, but there are just the two of us and we don’t eat as much as we use to, plus six quail will probably be overkill.

Fortunately, as there is little in the island groceries for this type of meal, I had most of the ingredients in the cupboards and freezer.  The bok choy we grow in our own greenhouse along with Chinese cabbages.  We have it covered.

The coconut soup included sweet rice balls (mochico flour).  I had never made them.  When we lived in Beijing, we could just purchase them already made and ready to steam, boil or whatever. It is just the flour and water, being careful to have them the right consistency before putting them in the hot water or soup.  They turned out great.

I had purchased the blueberries, which will be used in the coconut soup, earlier in the week to have for blueberry pancakes, so I had that covered too.  It is going to be an international meal as the blueberries came from Chile!

Well, there you have it.  It is not the twenty dish meals we had with our Chinese friends, but it will be wonderful, modest and wonderful.  I wish that I could share mine with them, and they theirs with us, but alas, they are far away and the New Year was already yesterday for them.

If you would like to prepare the dishes for yourself, I would suggest going to The Woks of Life  https://thewoksoflife.com/ and looking at their suggestions for the New Year.  The squab (pigeon) is https://thewoksoflife.com/chinese-fried-pigeon-squab/ and the dessert soup is https://thewoksoflife.com/coconut-tapioca-dessert/.  None of the recipes are difficult, and they have different levels of difficulty with lots and lots of instruction and pictures.

Again,

I wish you all HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR OF THE RAT!

 

Well, it was great.  We had a big pile of bones but not much else left over.  Check out the recipes and enjoy.IMG_5402

sorry about the out of focus bone pile.

Camping in November?

Bouchon Roast Turkey

Who in western Washington State goes camping in November? I am sitting in the John Wayne Waterfront Resort in Sequim (pronounced squim for the uninformed). The park is mostly full with only a couple of spots open for this evening.

Winter in western Washington is noted for its dreary, wet, gray weather.  Sequim, however, touts that it has 200 days of sunshine a year and today is one of them.  On my last camping trip in September, when driving through Sequim, it was not one of the two hundred and it was coming down in buckets!

Finding camping locations any time of year is becoming more difficult as there are more and more full time RV’ers, as they are termed.  They move from campground to campground extending their stays to the full limit of days allowed by each location. Some locations can let them stay as many as one hundred and eighty days while state parks limit your stay to eleven.  One private campground company will allow only a certain number of days in a row and you must locate to a non-membership campground before you can return to the membership ones.

Consequently it takes a lot of finessing to be a full time camper.  You need an enormous of patience to be an occasional camper.  We camp about once a month, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a week and half. It has now become necessary to think nine months in advance.  That is as far ahead as you can reserve a state park site in Washington State.  No last minute camping trips anymore.

So here we are sitting under blue skies in November on the Olympic Peninsula.  It is the second year in a row that we have decided to spend Thanksgiving camping in our trailer in Sequim. Gorgeous sunrise this morning.  Cold but no frost yet.

In years past, and when we were younger, we always went someplace for Thanksgiving.  One time we cooked a turkey over a fire on San Juan Island in the Straights of Juan de Fuca.  The wind blew so hard we couldn’t get any heat on the turkey.  Finally upended a couple of picnic tables to create a windbreak so the turkey would cook.

One year we slept in the back of our Volvo station wagon and just about froze as the frost outside was white and an inch deep.  Luckily it was a two dog night and we happened to have two which we invited to share our space to keep us warm.

We have had many horrific storms in the Pacific Northwest on various holidays, The Valentines Storm, The Columbus Day Storm and, yes, The Thanksgiving Day Storm.  We were barbequing a turkey on Orcas Island that year. Before the storm started, we went for a walk and when we returned, the barbeque had blown away and we never found the turkey. We ate beef stroganoff for Thanksgiving. When we returned to Whidbey the power was out for eight days.  We hadn’t lost power on Orcas, however.

Another Thanksgiving on Orcas, the metal sign outside our cabin blew in the wind all night long making a screeching sound that did not permit sleep.  We didn’t know what it was until we could see it in the morning daylight when it was swinging in the wind.

Thanksgiving is the last camping trip for the year.  We usually do not go out again until about April which means camping in the rain.  Then we try to go monthly throughout the spring, summer and fall, even if just for a couple of days. We don’t sleep on the ground or in the back of a car, or on a picnic table in our older age.  We have a fifth wheel trailer with most of the comforts of home.

Because of the potential for heavy frost, we winterized our rig in September when we returned from two weeks camping.  So we have most of the comforts of home except water.  Winterizing entails removing the water from all the waterlines, the hot water heater and the water pump.  It’s a little more like real camping to haul a bucket water in to heat and wash dishes or to take a “spit” bath.  This campground has the luxury of a HEATED bathroom with a shower that has real hot water, so I braved the cold morning sunrise to walk the block or so to the shower and indulge in a nice hot one.

Camping isn’t sleeping on the ground and cooking over a campfire for us anymore.  I think the clincher was when I awoke to the feeling that a vampire was sucking on my neck in the middle of the night.  It turned out to only be a Western Washington banana slug. Yuk!  No more sleeping on the ground.

Chinese Halloween

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern
Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

I taught English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the largest language university in China some years ago. We, of course, discussed all the holidays in America as they approached. Though Halloween is not typically celebrated in China, my students were fascinated by the idea of it. After much scurrying around, they finally found something that actually looked like a pumpkin, weighed about ten pounds, but was some type of large, yellow winter squash and wanted to carve it as we had discussed in class.  An outing was in order as I didn’t want the mess in the classroom. Off to the Purple Bamboo Park we walked with a picnic lunch and the essentials to carve the “pumpkin” into a Jack-o-Lantern.  They had a great time and a couple of students even brought along Beijing Opera Masks to wear.  It was one of the few sunny days in late autumn, and we sat on blankets and enjoyed carving and being in the sun and practicing our English.  Several strangers came by to see what we were doing and ask questions about this American custom. My students explained all they had learned in class to the casual passers by.

In the evening we put the carved pumpkin with a candle inside in the lobby window of our apartment building and all my other classes came by to trick-or-treat and have cookies, beer and whiskey in our apartment.  While the students were there, several children of the other language teachers in the building came by to trick-or-treat as well.  One didn’t speak English, so my Chinese students taught her how to say “trick or treat” in English.  There were lots of giggles and smiles and excitement when they got goodies at our door. They had improvised costumes as they had heard we were celebrating this  American holiday in our apartment. Luckily I had baked LOTS of cookies.  The chocolate chunk ones were a real favorite with gingersnaps running a close second.

In China, Tomb Cleaning Day would be the closest in intent to Halloween, similar to All Saints Day in Mexico.  The family will come to clean the tomb, offer burned paper money and food, and eat a picnic.  So in a way, the students could relate to the Halloween tradition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

FALL

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It’s Fall

Well after a summer of very grey weather but no rain, fall is here with a blaze of glory.  We have had a very strange year in the maritime Pacific Northwest, here on Puget Sound.  I live on an island in Puget Sound and this morning the fog has rolled in densely and is cocooning us in its wraith-like quality. Certainly appropriate for the up-coming Halloween season.

Yes, it was a very strange summer with few days where the sun shone, but still we had a drought.  By October first the y-t-d rainfall was less than eight inches, a very rare thing in these parts.  It is rare to have a drought and even more rare to have clouds throughout the season that did not bring rain.

Finally about the end of September it started to rain.  And rain it surely has. We are up to almost eleven inches and it is still the middle of October.  It has poured and poured, too late though to make the broadleaf maples turn beautiful colors.  They just got crisp and turned brown, but not so with most of the other deciduous trees which are performing spectacularly now.  It is some of the most beautiful color I can remember.  Too bad the broadleaf maples couldn’t have joined in with their show, but alas, they suffered more than most.  Cedars suffered from the drought as well, sacrificing the top third of their noble visage to conserve water, and a few have died, they being somewhat shallow-rooted.

Another phenomenon we are experiencing is a bumper crop of every kind of mushroom you can imagine including some we haven’t seen in years.  The drought has brought on varieties that require drought in order to “bloom.”  Not only are there rare varieties, but the common ones are standing in abundance in my orchard, flower beds, walkway gravel, in the woods and in the open. One state park here has limited the daily amount you can collect to two gallons! I didn’t even think it was legal to pick anything without permits in state parks.

There is heavy fog this morning and I can hear the ferry “sounding” to detect the echoes from shore.  When I first moved to this island forty-nine years ago there was also a siren that sounded like a police car winding up it siren.  It rang about every thirty seconds.  That is no longer in use and modern technology doesn’t require the ferry to “sound” any longer.  I think he does it to wake up the dock attendant.

Fog can do strange things to acoustics.  There is a railway along the shore of the mainland about three miles from my home.  I can hear the train whistle too.  It “sounds” at most crossings.  It is as loud and clear as the ferry.  If I listen carefully, I can hear the cars getting off the ferry with the clunk-clunk of the wheels on the ramp to the dock.

My rain barrels are full now.  I had emptied them early watering during the drought and had to resort to the old fashioned hose bib to water by early summer. My mint never came up until the rain came in the fall.  Now it is going great guns and mojito season is past, more like hot buttered rum and spiked cider time.

I’m not complaining as the temperatures are still in the fifties and comfortable.  The weeding is much easier now that the ground is wet.  You could hardly pull weeds when the ground was like cement. I enjoy the fog and to me it feels cozy, hiding much of the world and giving me the privacy I once enjoyed when I first moved here, before the hoards discovered that living on an island in Puget Sound is close to paradise.

Experimental Baking for the Holidays

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Not much left.  Just enough for another meal!

 

We were recently invited to dinner for the holidays.  I was to bring dessert.  What kind of holiday dessert could I make?  I decided on a cake, but a different cake than I had baked before.

I have a basic carrot cake recipe that is usually my go to carrot cake.  It is carrots and pineapple and walnuts.  I didn’t have carrots or pineapple in the kitchen when I was getting ready to bake.  I did have yams and applesauce.  Off on a new recipe experiment.  I knew the neighbors would overlook any weirdness this recipe might create.  How would the yams cook?  Would they be tough or chewy?  Would the applesauce be too moist or not moist enough?

The only way to know was to try.  I peeled and then grated the 2 cups of yams just as though they were carrots.  They even looked like carrots when I finished grating them in the food processor.  The apples I had were canned apple slices, so I processed those into applesauce.  I probably could have left some chunks, but I needed the moisture to give the batter the proper consistency.  Otherwise I made the cake just as it is in the recipe.

I mixed it up and the consistency was the same as the regular carrot cake so I popped it in the oven and it even smelled the same while it was baking. It took about the usual time to bake and I took them out and cooled them on racks just as I always do.

When they were cool enough, I was ready to frost them.  My original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting.  I find it a little heavy, rich and cloying.  Recently I had discovered a two ingredient white chocolate frosting that is much lighter, just white chocolate and whipping cream. I used that.

When it was frosted, I sprinkled it with red sugar sprinkles, tucked in some winter greenery and I had a holiday cake to take and celebrate with the neighbors.

The resulting taste?  Fantastic.  Ever as good as the carrot version and more “holiday” in the ingredients.  I think the next time I make it I will add dried cranberries (craisins), as well, to make it even more festive.  Not only is it good for the December holidays, but appropriate for Thanksgiving too.

The results just reinforced for me, experiment! You will have a new product that doesn’t require a special trip to the store ( I had all the ingredients on hand) and tastes great.  Try it sometime.