Chicken Noodle Soup for what Ails You!

IMG_3637The crud seems to be traveling around the U. S. this winter and both my husband and I have managed to come down with it last week.  Now we are doing better, but I asked him what he wanted for lunch and he replied, “Chicken Noodle Soup!”  I thought about it for a few minutes and decided I would make chicken won ton soup.

I had frozen won ton wrappers in the freezer and I used one chicken breast, a little Shaoxing rice wine, grated ginger, green onion, garlic, sesame oil, water chestnuts and a weed from our yard called upland cress. Wrapped that in the wrappers and put it all in a little chicken broth and we had chicken noodle soup.

Here are the photos.  Enjoy.IMG_3630IMG_3629IMG_3635

The New Polar North

img_3553I have an idea about global warming.  We are not seeing it so much here in the Puget Sound Basin.  We are having snow this morning, for the third time in a week.  It doesn’t stay long, but it is pretty, but it is also pretty cold.

This winter has been much colder than ones in recent times with temperatures in November/December in the 20s and the remaining since in the 30s with a high in the low 40s.  Usually it is around the mid 40s most of the winter, with rain.  We will have an occasional false spring where it might get up to 60 in January for a day.  We did have one day this January with a Chinook wind that was 58 degrees, but generally, this has been a cold winter.

I have decided that global warming isn’t really global warming, just warming in unusual areas, leaving those of us here in a general cooling spell.  My philosophy is that the poles have shifted and the Arctic and Antarctic are moving toward the area we would consider the equator and the Puget Sound Basin will become the new North Pole! Yes, I know that axis of the earth does shift and very gradually.  But it is beginning to feel like the polar north around here.

This winter we have had more days when it snowed than I can remember since I was a child, back in the dark ages.  But we also had snow for Halloween and Thanksgiving then.  We even had snow on April Fool’s day once.  The lowest temperature we have recorded here at our house was in 1978 at minus 10 degrees.  The pipes froze.  Luckily (?) this winter the lowest was 19 above.  Needless to say the fuchsias in the greenhouse won’t make it this year.

We live in a cabin in the woods, so the temperatures are tempered somewhat around us, cooler in summer and warmer in winter.  This morning it is three degrees warmer here in the woods than out in the open spaces.  We have natural air conditioning, keeping the house at least ten degrees cooler than the open spaces in the summer time.  It is great.

With a cooler winter this year, we are burning a lot more firewood to keep warm.  The woodstove is the primary heat in our house and I have to split and stack it every year.  Fortunately, this year we ordered extra and we still have reserves as we often need to heat until June.

When we had that Chinook day in January, a friend of mine was thinking of going out to plant her potatoes.  Washington’s Birthday is the traditional day to plant pod peas here.  If either of these activities happened, they are not going to make it.  Frozen potato sets do not produce potatoes. I am still looking at the seed catalogues, not having ordered at my usual time in January.  I need to get on my horse and get it done or they won’t be here if we have an early spring (please!).  I usually plant everything in May.  The plants are healthier and the peas come on the same time as those planted in February.

Well, so much for the morning snow gripe.  I am looking forward to a day indoors, painting a painting of an old truck that is in progress.  Hopefully I will have it finished by the end of the day.  Hope your day is one in which you can do something that you love too.

Culture and idiomatic English

This is a piece that I wrote for my memoir and I am sharing it with you today, timely as the Chinese Lunar New Year is just past.  It is sort of long and somewhat humorous.  I taught in Beijing in 2001 and 2002.  I am currently working on writing a book about the experiences.

 

Many of the students in China who wanted to perfect their conversations skills in various languages went to a place called English Corner, or French Corner, etc.  This was a street corner where, on certain days, all sorts of people met to speak the language of their choice.

My husband attended a couple of these and since he was a native English speaker, he became the focus of these sessions.  No longer were the attendees speaking in conversation to one another, but all were vying for Bob’s attention in order to practice with a real English speaking person. It was tedious and very tiring.

What could we do with our students that would help them improve their English speaking skills?  I used several methods, including debate, tour guides, plays, but the most popular by far was the soap opera.  I have to explain that in Beijing, soap operas are very popular, taking up a good percentage of broadcast time on many of the local television stations.  They are maudlin, with a good deal of intrigue to carry your interest to the next episode.

I used the soap opera was used in my classes for both semesters.  These performances were at the beginning of each class session; especially the ones after lunch, as it excited them and brought them fully awake from their postprandial stupor. I had noticed students in other classrooms sleeping after lunch.

When arriving in class, five students were told they were the stars for the day.  These five would go out in the hall to prepare for their performance.  They had ten minutes to work on their episode. Sometimes I would give a topic and sometimes I would allow them to carry on in their own way continuing the story from the day before.

I wish I had recorded these scenes as they continued to unfold over the term.  It was interesting to see what they would use for their own ideas, but also fun to see what they would do with the ones I presented them. Many had preconceived ideas of “the American Way” and it was interesting to see these ideas in play form.

One class originally started with a Chinese family that lived in the United States.  When I asked them to describe this family, they told me that they lived in a big house, had a red convertible.  This comes from watching too many American movies.  “Well what kind of family do they have?” I asked.  “Oh, Miss Deon, they will have twelve children,” they replied. My response to this was how do we fit them in the little red convertible when it is time to take them to the movies or school?  They hadn’t thought this through.  So in one episode, we went on to find an appropriate vehicle for this family, shopping for a vehicle for a large family.  (The large family is the Chinese couples dream as they have been so limited to one child for so long.)

After we had fashioned the U.S. family, we created a Chinese couple with a child who were coming to the U.S. to visit our newly created family. One episode included piling into the new fifteen passenger van the family had purchased (financing was never figured out) to meet the Chinese family at the airport.

We had engagement of oldest daughter, guys night at the bar watching football (read soccer), one child who wasn’t doing well enough at school, a neighbor whose daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, sightseeing to Yellowstone Park, Grandmother who gambled too much at mahjong, and many more.

After a while they became very talented in creating scenarios for these vignettes.  They were so comfortable doing this that I decided to occasionally throw in a monkey wrench to scenes.  During the one were the guys were in the bar watching football, I had arranged for one of the women in the class to enter the play and go up to her “husband” and say “Where have you been?  It is our anniversary and you promised to take me to dinner and here I find you playing with your friends at the tavern!”  You should have seen the actor’s faces.  They were mortified. The students in the audience already knew this was going to happen as I had arranged it while the actors were in the hallway working on the plot.  We all laughed hysterically.  If course, the carefully arranged plot needed to be modified and the rest of their play changed to an impromptu, extemporaneous skit.  They really had to think on their feet to finish their ten minutes of fame on stage.  I must say they managed to pull it off well.

Toward the end of the term, one group of actors, who now knew that I might throw in something anytime, arrange for a surprise of their own.  The pulled me into their plot from the audience.  I’m not sure they got the responses they wanted, because I made it more difficult for them to hold to the plot by playing around with their addition of me to the game.

Needless to say, this whole exercise really pushed them to learn casual conversation.  After the skit was over, we would talk about the cultural inaccuracies they had portrayed, like fitting fourteen people into a red convertible.  Since I was teaching Western Culture as well as idiomatic conversation, it was a learning curve all around.

My husband’s class decided to put on a play.  They chose, of all things, Snow White. Well, this seemed pretty straightforward and probably not too difficult.  They would practice their parts in class as well as in their dorms.  However, in China, all the important parts should be played by men.  Snow White is an important part; therefore, it should be played by a man.  Chinese men normally do not have much facial hair, if any, but the gentleman chosen to play Miss White had a full beard.

Well, if a man could play the main woman then women could play the men.  The whole play was done with cross dressing! All the dwarves were women dressed as men.  The wicked queen was a man, the prince (another important part) was the only part played without cross dressing.

So here is Snow White in a dress he borrowed from one of his classmates.  He is wearing Bermuda shorts underneath, thankfully, as he sits with his legs splayed in front of his audience,  the dress being hiked up to a level as to be too revealing. Well the whole play was a riot.  Though they practiced a great deal, the glitches, such as the queen tripping over the hem of his gown, and the dwarves singing “hi ho, hi ho” off-key, it was wonderful.  They invited all my students to come for the audience as his students all had parts and they needed an audience.

My students chose an abbreviated version of The Merchant of Venice, so abbreviated that it was a little hard to follow and the audience, Bob’s students, got a little bored with the whole thing. They had a good time doing it and developed elaborate costuming from their limited wardrobes, but they did get a chance to practice their English Conversation.

Needless to say, this was just a couple of more examples of my quirky way of teaching conversational English and Western Culture.

 

What do you eat?

What do you eat?

What kinds of food do you eat?  I was thinking about making dinner tonight and what I should make.  When I was thinking about that, I realized that the scenarios I went through were all “foreign” foods.  But really, what is American food?  Isn’t most of the foods we eat these days an amalgamation of many countries?

When I was in junior high, I was tutored for a whole summer in Hong Kong Chinese cooking.  When I lived in China in 2001 and 2002, I learned northern Chinese cooking and Szechuan and Hunan styles as well.  Hong Kong is more Cantonese or Southern and the dishes are sweeter.  Most of the early Chinese restaurants in the U.S. served southern style.  I also learned to make Dim Sum.

When I was in Mexico, I prepared Mexican dishes almost exclusively.  I have taught myself many other cuisines as well, French, German, Swedish and more.

I used to teach Greek cooking classes and prepared such things as domas (stuffed grape leaves), baklava (phyllo dough filled with nuts and honey), spanakopita (phyllo filled with spinach and feta cheese).  Later I taught Mexican, Italian, and foods from India.

When I think about what to eat, I usually think of something from another country.  Maybe it is because I am getting old and I crave strong, flavorful food.  Somehow a plain hamburger just doesn’t meet that need.  Cajun food does with its hot and spicy flavors, but it is really a combination of many cultures including French, African and American.  Their cornbread is not original to the U.S.  I ate corncakes for breakfast in China and they have been serving it since long before America existed as we know it today.  Cornbread (corncakes) is a staple in many countries around the world.

So what’s for dinner?  Chili Verde (pork in green chili sauce) with rice and black beans with fresh tortillas.  It is really cold, so this dish should warm our hearts and our taste buds. Since it takes a little while to cook, it will help warm the house too.  Sounds perfect for a twenty-five degree day.  Even better with eggs for breakfast burritos tomorrow morning.

Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!

 

Homemade Biscuit Mix

When we go camping and even at home, I have a batch of homemade biscuit mix in a container in the cupboard.  We have waffles, pancakes, muffins, or biscuits at least a couple of times a week and I found having a mix on hand makes the morning’s chores go more quickly.  My general mix is for the buttermilk variety.  If you want to make the recipe with sweet milk, then leave out the baking soda.

For the batch I make for the RV, I use powdered buttermilk in the mix so all I have to add is water, oil, and for all but the biscuits, eggs.  If you want to make scones, add a little sugar.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice added and let it set for a few minutes before adding.

 

The mix:

6 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

Shake all these together in an air-tight container and you are ready to go.

If you are camping you can add 1 cup powdered buttermilk to the mix, in which case, you just add water for the liquid. Remember buttermilk needs the soda.  Regular sweet milk only needs the baking powder, not the baking soda.

When you are ready to make biscuits, take 2 cups of the mix.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you are using the camping mix, just add waterand oil).  Variations:  You can add grated cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, bacon bits or whatever inspires.  If you want to make scones, increase the oil to 1/3 c or substitute butter and add 3 tablespoons of sugar.  I like to add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Any nuts are good, try hazelnuts and when you are ready to eat spread with Nutella. Yum!

For waffles or pancakes, use the same proportions as above, but add a little more liquid (about a cup)to achieve the correct consistency.  We like to add nuts to the waffles or bacon bits.  Pancakes can have sliced bananas added (if served with peanut butter, Elvis would be happy).  Ricotta cheese added to pancakes with a goodly amount of lemon zest shavings makes a great pancake, but plain is good too.

For muffins, line the tins with greased muffin papers or just grease the pan.  Mix 2 cups of mix with 1/3 C white or brown sugar, 1/4C vegetable oil, and 1 cup buttermilk mixed with one egg.  I like to add dates, cranberries, craisins, nuts, bacon bits, pieces of dried fruit, blueberries, orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, just about anything.  I sprinkle them with coarse raw sugar and bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes.  Any of the additions make for great muffins.  Serve with lots of butter and jam.

Hopefully you will find this is a great mix to keep for camping or just making your mornings easier.  You can make almost any recipe you find on a biscuit mix box, but you need to add oil as the commercial stuff has shortening added.  If you add it to your homemade mix, then it needs to be refrigerated.  I usually skip that and add it when I am making breakfast.

Happy baking.

Camping in November

An out of focus photo of Ft. Warden Light near Pt. Townsend Washington.img_3466I probably should say that we went glamping as we stayed in our travel trailer and out of the cold, inclement weather.  Since I didn’t have to work on Veteran’s Day, I had a space of five days free and we decided at the last minute to travel to the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington State.  For us this entails a ferry ride since we live on Whidbey Island.

Early on Thursday, my first day off, we headed to the Keystone Ferry in the middle of Whidbey.  This ferry takes us to Pt. Townsend, one of my favorite towns in Washington.  It has an 19th century charm that is going though restoration off and on, but still in keeping with the National Historic District status.  Beautiful three and four story brick buildings with Victorian flair.

We stayed at Pt. Hudson our last night and visited the town, but the first day we headed for Sequim (pronounced SQUIM).  John Wayne owned a substantial piece of waterfront on Sequim Bay many years ago where he moored his yacht, The Grey Goose, when he was in the area.  The land was donated to the county and is now a beautiful marina, campground, boat launching area and more, well protected by the long spit that juts across the mouth of the bay.  Calmer seas prevail here as the spit almost encloses the bay with a small passage out to the Straits of Juan de Fuca outside the passage.

Kingfishers, herons, seagulls and crows love the beach by the RV park.  I love watching the kingfishers dive into the water, coming up with small fish. Their turquoise and green iridescence makes them spectacular.  They look a little crazy with such big heads and small bodies.

Next we went to Joyce, Washington to stay at Salt Creek State Park.  This park has a very rocky precipice overlooking the Straits.  Waves crash on the rocks below the cliffs.  The park is a fairly steep hill which has been terraced for the RVs.  We backed into a space in the highest tear, thus having an unobstructed view of the straits and the shipping lanes there.  I love to watch the ships go by and I can do it from my dinette table inside.  We saw oil tankers, car carriers, and container ships interspersed with the minuscule fishing boats. The two lighthouses on Vancouver Island were visible flashing their lights after dark.  They were hardly visible through the fog and moisture in the air during the day.

We took a day trip to Forks and LaPush and had lunch one day.  Hiked around the campground another as it is an old fort from WWI.  The neighboring bay, Crescent Beach, was packed with surfers, though there wasn’t much for surf the day we watched. Cougars had been sighted in the region and they suggested you keep you children and pets on a short leash.

We did see some seals out in a large bull kelp bed.  Picked up some shells and beach glass while wondering beaches.

It was warmish, with the temperatures in the mid 50s.  Sunday, however there was a gale that made it hard to push open the door of the travel trailer to get out.  We were glad to be in Pt. Townsend and not at home that night.  (Our home is situated in a treed area and often we need to leave home if storms are to dangerous.) We were only staying one night, but we unhitched as it was difficult to walk against the wind to downtown, many blocks away.  Had a great dinner, once again, at The Fountain Cafe.  They never fail to please us and we are very hard to please.

Mostly, this was a relaxing trip.  We took our time, did a lot of reading in the evenings, slept late, and were generally lazy.  We didn’t have to be anyplace and any particular time and we just wandered, a great way to spend a little time off.