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.

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!

 

A Frosty Morn

ringneck-doves

Just came in from feeding the animals.  It is cold again this morning.  It was colder yesterday morning at 22 degrees, which for Western Washington, is cold.  Since we have rather high humidity, the cold is more penetrating.  For those who live in the mid-west, they probably would consider these temps a heat wave. Ha!

Everything is frozen outside, so the first thing I had to do when getting suited up to meet the weather challenges was to fill a large bucket with very hot water.  The doves, the baby chicks and the molting old hens all need to have their waterers unfrozen.  I also filled the birdbaths with warm water as the poor wild birds have no place to drink.

We have one baby dove who is just now fending for himself and I was worried that he might not make it through this cold.  This morning he is huddled in a corner trying to keep warm as his mother has now abandoned him since he can feed himself.  He was fine and jumped right in when the feed was provided.

The ten chicks, which are now two months old, are very hardy, but today I gave them their first cracked corn, which helps warm the chickens from the inside out.  The also got fresh bread, which they chased all over their pen.  The cold doesn’t seem to faze them.

The old hens, however, felt the cold.  Why do they choose to molt just when the weather turns cold.  Molting, as I have mentioned in earlier pieces, is the process of losing all their feathers and growing a new set, which means they are not laying any eggs.  So we are between eggs with old ones molting and new ones too young yet.  I hate buying store eggs.

The plantings in the yard look sad, especially the rhododendrons that lower their leaves as though dead or dying.  This is the way they look in the heat of summer when they are in dire need of water.  I always hate the look of them in this cold.

I know when things thaw that there will be lots of mud because the frost has pushed up around the stones in all the pathways making crunching noises as I walk out to do the chores.

The advantage to all the trouble above is THE SUN IS SHINING. It is a trade off.  If we have sunshine, we have cold weather.  If it is in the 40s then it will rain and be grey.  Yesterday and this morning, we can bask in its warmth and enjoy the vitamins it gives to us, though begrudgingly in winter.  Makes me feel perkier already.  Amazing what a little sunshine can do for your mental health.

Guess I will go for a walk and enjoy it.  Never know how long it will last.

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.

Trains in China

(The writing group I belong to assigned the topic “trains” and I decided to share it with you. The photo is a nicer train than the one we slept in where the shelves were wood and it was very dark.)

Hard Sleeper Carriage

When I lived in China, I had the opportunity to travel almost the full length of the country by various forms of transportation, plane, train, bus, rickshaw, but never on a boat.  In January, February, and March of that year’s spring break, we would travel by train for the first time in China.

I had a foreign affairs officer who became good friend, and whose primary job was to answer questions and make our transition of living in China an easier one.  So who did I turn to for lessons on how to travel? Zhou Wei.  Help, how do we make a train reservation?  What are the options?  How can I tell them the destination? And a hundred others.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to keep to a schedule on the trip, so if we missed a conveyance or took one to the wrong place, we could just continue on anywhere we wanted.  We did, however, have a bit of a plan.

I had tried to think of all the things I might need to ask someone while we travelled, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, hard seat, where is a hotel and more. I wrote all the questions on flash cards and had one of my students write the phrase in Chinese characters on the other side, that way I could ask and hopefully understand and get the right answer.

Zhou Wei took us to the train ticket office near the university where we taught and showed us how to purchase a ticket, something that cannot happen more than three days ahead of your travel date. Spring break, millions and millions travel in China.  Students have more time off, but business people and workers only have a short window of a week for vacation, thus transportation would be packed and overloaded during that time.  We would try to stay in one place when this was the most difficult.

When it came time to leave for Xi’an, our fist stop, Zhou Wei went with us to the train station to show us how to find our train.  All the schedules have the names of the destinations in Chinese characters.  This meant I would have to memorize all the city names on our route in Chinese.  Fortunately the times were written in western numbers.

When we were getting on the train, we had to surrender our ticket.  I was a little worried that I didn’t have proof of the stop where I was supposed to exit and might be asked to leave earlier, but I was given a metal, dog tag type device to keep until my time to get off.

We had reserved a soft sleeper for the first leg of our journey.  This was even more comfortable than the bed in our apartment with four bunks.  Our roommates were two men who did not speak any English.  They immediately stripped to their long johns so as to not wrinkle their suits.  Luckily there was no smoking in the room so they needed to go between cars to do that.  Toilets were at each end of the car, one western and one Chinese. There was a washroom adjacent to the conductor’s cubbyhole.

Everyone was wandering around the train partially dressed.  They would sleep in their long johns.

A large thermos of boiling water was provided and the conductor kept it full for us. I had brought teabags and our dinner.  We sat at a small pop-up table below the window and watched the world go by through lace curtains until dark.  This train was the most luxurious of all in our travels.

People were polite and tried to engage us in conversation.  On another leg of the journey, they watched us play canasta and tried to figure out the game as they are big card players who always want to gamble on them.

On one leg of the journey, I made a serious mistake while reserving our accommodations. I chose beds #3 and 4, wrongly making the assumption that they would be above and below each other in the same compartment. Wrong.  They were in two different compartments.  I went to mine and with charades, asked the man above my bunk would trade with my husband who had a lower bunk.  He agreed in a minute as the lower are the more desirable.

On one leg of the journey we could only get hard sleeper.  Hard sleeper is a little fancier than a cattle car.  Wooden bunks are stacked four high.  I didn’t see any chickens, but some livestock are allowed to be carried in this compartment.  We slept on a board with the ¼” thick pad like we originally had for a mattress in Beijing.  We didn’t sleep much due to discomfort and the general hubbub in the car.  The people were very kind and gracious to us but someone was up the whole night talking or eating or calming crying infants.  I could have throttled the two young me in the two top bunks playing video games with companion sounds (read noise), the whole night long. One man wanted to talk with us, but he didn’t speak English.  He left for about two hours and came back with someone he found in soft seat who spoke English and could act as a translator.  We spent quite a while answering his questions.  It was fun and he was sooooo happy.

When you are nearing a town and it seems like about the time that you should arrive at your destination, start watching for the signs for the name of the station, only a few had their names in pinyin (western characters).  Here is where I really had to read fast and had needed memorize the name in characters.  I wouldn’t have much of a glimpse and I needed to see if it was our stop.  We travelled for two and a half months and we didn’t get off wrong anywhere.  We carried our baggage with us so there was no need to locate it when we arrived at our destination. I suspect that there was no baggage check as everyone carried their piles of bags, luggage, animals and more and dumped them in aisles, under seats on the foot of beds.

Now China has high speed trains that can travel from one end of the country to the other in just a couple of days.  It used to take five.  The trains from Beijing to Xi’an, Shanghai, TianJin are more luxurious than the ones that deal with other Provinces.  A professor friend of mine said he slept on a board stretched between two seats for his bed on the train. He kept falling off.  We traveled in comfort, even in the hard sleeper section.

Though some were crowded, it was very festive and the people were kind and helpful.  The conductors/conductresses were attentive, maybe more so to us as we were foreigners.  All in all, trains in China are the way to go and my preferred means of travel.