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

Food dislikes

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I am an omnivore.  I eat gluten, lactose, nuts, soy, red meat, white meat etc.  You get my point.  I try almost anything.  I may not choose to eat some things a second time, not because I especially dislike them, but I choose to fill myself with foods that I enjoy.  If I am going to take in calories, they are going to be delicious calories.

When I lived in China, we had a policy of eat and don’t ask.  In all the time I lived there, there were only a couple of dishes that I would not order again.  If my students ordered them, I politely took the first bite as is required of the honored guest, but because there were so many dishes on the table, no one noticed if I didn’t help myself to more later on.

One of the dishes was duck feet in mustard oil.  I don’t mind duck or chicken feet at all and have had some truly wonderful dishes prepared with them.  The problem with this dish was the mustard oil.  I understand now how mustard gas can kill.  The oil was truly nasty stuff.

The honored guest always gets the eyes of the fish when steamed Li with scallions and ginger is served.  I eat these, but they are not a favorite.  They have little flavor, it is just the eye-dia.

Another dish which was offered to me at numerous festive dinners where I was the guest of honor was coagulated duck blood.  This is about the consistency of soft jello, difficult to pick up with chopsticks as it is jiggly and very soft, the cubes breaking easily.  Nothing worse that staining the front of you blouse with duck blood.  I ate it everytime it was offered, but I opted out of it on following turns of the lazy susan in the middle of the table.  No one noticed as there was so much food.  Duck blood is not cheap as it is hard to keep fresh.  My students, wanting to impress me, would order it as a special dish.

There is a somewhat humorous story about duck blood that happened to my husband when his students took him out for an end of term celebratory dinner.  I quote it from my manuscript below.

“….Bob tasted this one dish, coagulated duck blood, which was one he didn’t especially care for and had had before.  He went on to the next dish after surreptitiously rinsing his mouth with beer.  As continued eating, one of the other students took a taste of the duck blood.  The student made a terrible spitting noise and hacked the mass onto the floor, stood up and started yelling.  The duck blood was spoiled.  When Bob came home he said, “If I die tonight, I want you to know I ate spoiled coagulated duck blood.” The students were most apologetic.  I guess it might be a good idea to have a guinea pig to do your tasting for you, but that is not the Chinese way, the honored guest is the guinea pig, going first and dies first, if it is bad.  Bob didn’t even get sick.”

Now we mostly prepare our own Chinese dishes and we choose only the most delicious to eat.  When we can find ingredients, we prepare them at home for ourselves and we omit the mustard gas (oh, I mean oil), the eyeballs of animals including fish and coagulated duck blood.

There are two foods that I WILL NOT EAT, never.  There are only two.  One I don’t run across but occasionally.  Parsnips are on my HATE list.  I will refuse them if you offer them to me. There is not being polite here.  I even hate the ones that come in those chip bags of mixed vegetables. It isn’t the texture or the appearance, but the taste that you sense in the back of your nose.  When I was a young girl, I had several surgeries.  These entailed putting you to sleep by putting a cone over you face and drizzling ether onto the cone.  Parsnips taste like that smell.  Ether made me throw up and parsnips make me gag.

The other food I dislike and will not eat is runny eggs.  I do run across this often. If we eat breakfast out, I almost always order scrambled eggs as they will usually be completely cooked.  I would eat a runny white, but a runny yolk tastes like….well….coagulated duck blood.  It tastes like blood. I love eggs Benedict.  Do you think I can convince the cook of the meaning of petrified?  Never.  I always have to send them back while my table mates eat their meals before they get cold.  Once at the local café, I sent them back twice and they were still soft.  I kept the fruit bowl and told them to cancel the eggs Benedict. What don’t they understand about petrified?

Now when I go to that local café, the cook gives me the stink eye and hopes that I don’t order anything with poached eggs.  I would rather green yolks than soft orange ones.  It’s too bad, because this is a dish that I would not make at home as my husband is not partial to it and it is too much work just for me unless I am making crab cakes eggs Benedict, in which case my husband will eat those with me.

I am an omnivore.  I will eat almost anything and I am willing to try anything at least once.  Try it, you might like it.

 

Good Food

Recently we went camping and one of the places we were sure to stop on our way down the coast was Westport, Washington.  Westport is a key charter fishing port.  There are tons of charter fishing boats as well as private fishing boats, crabbers, ones who fish for salmon, halibut and much more.

This is a very small town which has only a small business district with lots of restaurants for fisherman who are staying there to eat.  We were there once when we had a medical emergency and we would have had to travel a very long distance to get help according to a local clinic.  Either we would have had to go to Pt. Angeles or Astoria.  We decided to deal with it ourselves.  This tells you that the services in this town are skimpy and mostly related to charter fishing.

There are however several places here for the gourmand. One of the best is a seafood shack for purchasing oysters, scallops, mussels, all kinds of fish and more is located here.  We purchased our usual pint of yearling oysters and ate oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple of days.  These quarter size delicacies are extra ordinary.  Doused with a little panko and lemon zest and fried in browned butter there is nothing better.  For breakfast, fried bacon, onions and oysters in scrambled eggs with home fries on the side you are really eating high on the hog.

The other place that is near and dear to our hearts is Bay City Meats.  These folks are the best source for sausages and meats.  We bought Mulligans, linguisa, chorizo, breakfast sausage, landjager, and more.

We have been home for about a month now and we broke open the chorizo for dinner tonight.  It was exquisite! Spicy with just the right amount of fat.  The stuff they sell locally is about 75% fat. Yuck.  This was just perfect.  I made chili sauce with guajillo chilies by roasting them in a little oil and then blending with boiling water, garlic and grilled tomatoes.  I put the chorizo, chili sauce and grated cheese in tortillas and spread with sauce and cheese on the top.  Just the right amount of heat and aromatics to make a dinner that was over the top.  I can still taste it and the house has this wonderful aroma.

Luckily we still have tortillas, sauce and some fried chorizo left to make migas for breakfast.  Our version is to take the chili sauce and poach eggs in it.  I will fry tortillas, dip them in the chili sauce, place the poached egg on top and cover with chorizo and more chili sauce and cheese.  Boy I am hungry already and it is still evening.

When we were on this camping trip we also found in Twisp, Washington a source for elk burger, so we had elk burger spaghetti and elk burger pastitsio last week, but those are for another blog.

Take care and enjoy.

A Celebration of Life

IMG_4323For the past several weeks we have been glamping in our trailer, traveling down Washington state, through coastal Oregon and down to the Redwoods.  This is a trip we have taken, with purpose, twice before.  The first time we made this pilgrimage was for our honeymoon and a celebration of my just having finished a three month round of radiation therapy for breast cancer.  We did the trip in our car, staying in motels along the way.  The second time was five years later with our small travel trailer.

 

This time we have a larger trailer, though it is the same length, it is a foot wider and the “slide” is two feet wider than the one on the old trailer.  We are “glamping.”  You can look this up on the internet, or you can read an old blog of mine.  We travel with a kitchen that is well stocked and sleep in a comfortable bed.  Remember that now I am twenty-one years older than the first trip, I have survived breast cancer a second time and am six years out. This is definitely another celebration.

 

This evening I am sitting on the shore of Soap Lake, Washington, enjoying a beautiful sunset of cerise, rose, gamboge, and cerulean.  (Can you tell I am a painter?) It is warm and dusky and the sky is beautiful.  I have one more night after tonight before I must return to my usual regimen.  I used to come to this lake when I was a little girl.  We would stay in one of the fifties funky motels here which featured a tub with two sets of faucets, one with fresh tap water and one set with hot and cold water from the lake.  This lake is known for its “waters.”  We have carried the waters back to friends for such things as eczema, colitis, hair loss and more.  It was famous around the turn of the last century (1900) for its healing powers.  Tonight I have seen a woman dressed in attire which appeared to be from Pakistan or India approach the water, bow and wash her face in the waters.  Children slash unconcerned about the medicinal qualities and note that they can float better here.

 

I guess that we choose to revisit these waters as it is a pleasant basin in which to relax and enjoy a little R & R.  We had a picnic of cheese curds, landjager, pepperoni, cheddar, asiago and spinach French bread, grapes from my student’s garden, tomatoes from my garden and more with a glass of French wine, while watching the sun set over the far hills, reflected in the waters of the lake.

 

It is dark now, but the sky is clear and the city park where we are camped is quiet and the stars are reflected in the waters.  The breeze has picked up and by morning it will probably be forty degrees though it was seventy this afternoon.  No matter, the crisp morning only serves to make the waters more beautiful. I am thankful to be here twenty-one years after the first celebration to celebrate again.

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Soapy surf the next morning as the wind blew from  the north and frothed the “soap” (read minerals ) in the lake.

 

 

Dining in Middle America

IMG_4321Today we were traveling through north/central Oregon on our way home from camping.  We stopped to have lunch not far from the Washington/Oregon border.  Many of the small towns in this region are dying away. This was really brought home to me while I “dined” in the local cafe.

 

This town had one main street which was the interstate highway.  Most folks just blazed through without taking in the local color.  Since I am a painter of “vanishing rural America,” I take in everything.  This means every derelict truck, tractor, falling down barn, abandoned gas stations and more.

 

It was one o’clock and my husband thought that we should stop for a bite to eat.  This town included a diner which probably had fifty feet of frontage on the main drag, a market which has a sign painted on its side that says, “Last Market for 67 miles,” and a post office.  There was also a rock shop to purchase stones from piles of plastic boxes stacked in the yard full of rocks.  We went into the diner.

 

When we drove up an older gentleman also arrived on his lawn mower and parked beside the front entrance.  I can only assume that he either didn’t have a car or a driver’s license.  He took one of the ten, or so, stools at the counter.  There were three additional tables for four people each.  We chose a table by the window so we could watch the world drive by.

 

Not long after our arrival, another man pulled out of an alley between two buildings across the street, but since he was headed the wrong way, he went around the block and pulled up out front, well away from the sandwich sign which stated “open.”  No use blocking the information that indicated any signs of life in this little burg.

 

We ordered from a VERY limited menu, but had not received our food when three elderly folks drove up.  There were two women and a man who had trouble exiting the vehicle.  I noticed that the waitress already had the coffee or dishes ordered up and almost ready when the various customers arrived.  One she asked, “Will it be the usual?”

 

Once the group of three where located at the table next to us, the conversations began.  “Where are you from?” “Oh, I have (insert one of many relatives) from near there.”  The conversation continued in a very one-sided way telling us all about things that happened there, how long the man had farmed, how he could no longer farm, how Social Security and the local hospital managed to keep them out of the poorhouse and mostly well. One told how many times she had been married and how it wasn’t happening again.  She had outlived those husbands and wasn’t going for a third try. We got quite a tour of the local gossip and their lives, bless their souls.  They were kind-hearted and probably excited to have someone other than a local to tell their tales.

 

Not long after that a couple in their Mercedes pulled up, obviously out-of-towners as were we.  They sat at the opposite end of the bar stools from us at the third table for four. The two ladies working the kitchen and the tables took their time in the local fashion.  The menu, being limited, meant that there were little complications in producing the requested menu items. I had ordered one of the hamburgers on the menu with a cup of soup. The soup of the day was tomato basil which turned out to be heavenly.  I wished I had ordered a bowl instead of the hamburger which was just a diner burger.

 

Well, it certainly was a view of middle-America.  Looking out the window at all the derelict buildings and thinking I could spend a month here painting “Vanishing Rural American” in this town, I was happy to know that the big houses, shopping malls, and overspending ostentatious public had not found this place yet.  Though the locals had trouble meeting their hospital bills (which were forgiven by the hospital) and the town only had three of its original (out of dozens) storefronts active, I found an amount of peace here talking with folks who had grown up here, attending one room schools, raising wheat, and growing old in the local cafe with their friends.

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