Lunch In A Chinese Home

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While in China I had the unique opportunity of experiencing several home visits with everyday Chinese people. On one such visit, I got the chance to go to an apartment in what is considered an upscale neighborhood of Changchun to have lunch with a Chinese family.  Even though I was in such a foreign place, I found unexpected familiarity and warmth, reminding me once again that we are more alike than different.

Upon arriving, I couldn’t get past the fact that the apartment building was bright pink. It looked like something right out of Miami Vice, but I decided it was better than the usual grayscale color schemes of communist architecture.

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A very pink apartment building in Changchun, China
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

No elevator meant climbing several flights of stairs in a series of concrete hallways. The drab and industrial surroundings made me wonder about the Chinese definition of “upscale.” However, when the hosts opened the door to their home, I saw a beautiful little apartment with wood floors, modern furniture and “stone” decorated walls. Before stepping through the door,  I was asked to remove my shoes and wear slippers. Apparently, the floors were new and the family didn’t want them scratched!

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A living room in a Chinese apartment.

After spending time in hutong homes and rural farmhouses, I now understood why this neighborhood was considered wealthy. This family had more money and domestic conveniences than many Chinese will ever see, including a big screen TV, a portable A/C unit, and a state of the art Western bathroom.  Most Chinese bathrooms consist of a hole in the floor that requires some skilled squatting, so this is a really a huge luxury. However, I was a little put off by the glass doors. The Chinese have a very different sense of privacy than the West in that there is little or no privacy!

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I’m a little jealous of this bathroom!

Despite many conveniences, the family had to hang their laundry out to dry on the patio. The concept of in-home washer and dryers is almost nonexistent for the everyday person in China. Hand-washing and line-drying is the most common way to clean clothes. In almost every window in every town, I saw clotheslines!

In comparison to the rest of the house, the kitchen was very simple. On one side there were small cabinets and counters, while the other side had a small dining table.  There were no full-size appliances. The stove was inset in the counter and consisted of two burners, while a small refrigerator and pantry were outside on an adjoining patio.

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Super small cabinets and counters didn’t hinder these master chefs!

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Getting ready for a buffet in the dining area of the kitchen.

Despite the small space, the entire family set about making the traditional and delicious meal of meat-filled dumplings.

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A few more stirs ought to do it!

Once the filling was cooked, the family taught me how to make the perfect Chinese dumpling. A spoonful of meat filling goes in the center of a thin dough circle. Then, the circle is folded in half and the ends are pinched together. It sounds easy, but it takes some practice! Too much filling can make the fold split and too few pinches can cause the whole thing to fall apart. After stuffing and pinching, the dumplings are steamed to cook the dough.

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Yes, they are as good as they look!

Dinner was served buffet style and the family insisted on incredibly full plates. It is considered rude not to sample everything on a host’s table, so I loaded up my plate and ate everything! Every bite was incredibly tasty.

As with many Chinese families, multiple generations live under one roof. In this instance, the grandparents on the mother’s side lived with the family. The Grandfather was a particularly colorful character who loved to talk to anyone who would listen. Even with a language barrier, he was a chatty one. Towards the end of the meal, he started a drinking game in the kitchen. He could down a beer faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. After chugging more than a few, he was the life of the party.

Even though I was wearing slippers instead of shoes and I was surrounded by a language I didn’t understand, I strangely felt right at home. Good food, good people, and a funny Grandpa can make the distance of an entire ocean disappear.

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Just curious . . .

Any ideas on why stuffed animals in plastic bags are on display in the living room?

I noticed the cabinets were different colors in both the bathroom and the kitchen. Is there a reason for this or does it simply not matter that they don’t match each other or the house decor?

Is lack of privacy the result of cultural evolution or is it related to high population density? Or both?

Got a question, observation, or reaction? Leave your thoughts in the comment section – Let’s get a great conversation going!

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Previous “New Familiars” posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

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c.b.w. 2013

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Favorite Thing Friday: Best Ever Cookies

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On the last Friday of every month, I like to bake for my co-workers. My usual specialty is frosted brownies that can give you a stomach ache with one small square (and it’s totally worth it!), but this month I decided to pull out my treasured chocolate chip cookie recipe.

For years, I trusted the recipe on the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag, but I could never get those cookies to turn out quite right. My sister, on the other hand, is a true master of that recipe. Her cookies are crispy and perfectly sweet! After some soul searching I realized I can’t make cookies like that because I like my cookies to have more of a European coffee shop taste. Sweet, but not too sweet. Crispy, yet soft. The Toll House recipe is good, but it can never achieve the taste ratio I love.

Last year I was cruising through yahoo.com when I came across a link that read, “Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies.” The first thing through my head was yeah, right, but I clicked on it anyway.  Little did I know I’d end up at my cookie mecca.  I had finally found a cookie recipe inspired by a European coffee cafe and bakery!

After making several batches, I can attest that they are indeed the best ever chocolate chip cookies. That being said, I still love my sister’s cookies. Rather than claiming the best cookie title, I’d say we are masters of our own cookie domains!

Go ahead and try out the recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sticks (16 tbsp) European style unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips (or chunks)

Directions:

  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  2. In a separate, larger bowl mix butter and sugar until creamy (light and fluffy).
  3. Mix in eggs one at a time.
  4. Mix in vanilla extract.
  5. On low speed, mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix!
  6. Stir in chocolate chips until just incorporated. Do not over mix!
  7. Use an ice cream scoop to make dough balls.
  8. Place dough balls on cookie sheets prepared with parchment paper. Refrigerate overnight.
  9. Preheat over 375º with rack in the center.
  10. Make sure cookie sheets are lined with parchment paper and space out dough balls with 2″ between.
  11. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and puffy on top.
  12. Cool on wire rack.
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I put my dough in a covered cake pan for their overnight chill. Don’t forget the parchment paper for chilling and baking!

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Freshly baked cookies cooling on the rack!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2013

Favorite Thing Friday: International Chocolate Day

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In honor of International Chocolate Day, it’s only fitting to show some love for chocolate. I consider chocolate a food group as my muse cannot function without the nourishment of milky chocolate decadence.  There’s a stash in my desk at work, in a bowl on the kitchen counter, in a basket in the pantry, and a few other hidden locations (so my husband can’t find it). I never know when my muse needs a kickstart, so better to be prepared than caught empty-handed!

My favorite chocolate candies tend be of the plainer variety, because I don’t like a lot of interference with my chocolate. However, peanut butter is the one exception to that rule. There’s nothing quite as tasty as creamy peanut butter and smooth milk chocolate. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Before my drooling gets out of control, here’s my list of Top Ten favorite chocolate candies:

10. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar

No muss. No fuss. Just plain chocolate at it’s best.

9 . Kit-Kat (full size and bites)

For a lighter dose of chocolate this candy bar is perfect. Plus, it’s fun to break it apart!

8. Cadbury Double Decker

I first experienced this mammoth of a candy bar while in London. The bottom is lined with biscuit pieces which serve as the anchor for a thick layer of chewy, creamy nougat.  Then, a nice layer of chocolate holds it all together. Yummy on (literally) so many levels.

7. Dove Promises Silky Smooth Caramel Milk Chocolate

The name says it all. These little pieces of chocolate covered liquid caramel melt in your mouth. And who doesn’t love the quotes inside the wrappers??  Yesterday, I got one that read: Love fearlessly.  Now, those are words to live by!

6. Hershey Nuggets – Almond and English Toffee

This is one of the rare occurrences where I like nuts mixed into my chocolate. The almond, toffee, and chocolate work together to make the perfect salty/sweet snack.

5. Godiva chocolate truffle

It’s Godiva. Enough said.

4. Cadbury Dairy Milk

Another U.K. delight, Cadbury Dairy Milk has a different texture from U.S. chocolate. Instead of a silky smooth finish, it’s thick and takes longer to melt. The taste, however, is absolutely fantastic. There’s nothing like it!

3. Hershey’s Candy Coated Milk Chocolate Eggs

These tasty eggs only come out at Easter. I inhale them until they pull them off the shelves. They are like giant M&Ms with a perfect chocolate/candy shell ratio.

2. Mint M&Ms (Holiday Version)

When I’m not inhaling chocolate eggs, I’m eating too many mint M&Ms.  The milk chocolate variety of Mint M&Ms only comes out at Christmas, which means I load up on large bags so I snack on them all year long.

1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

Hands down, my favorite candy. I love all varieties of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, from the teeny tiny to the Big Cup. There’s something special about the flavor of the peanut butter and the perfect amount of chocolate. Best. Candy. Ever.

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What’s your favorite chocolate or candy? (or snack?)

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c.b.w. 2013

Favorite Thing Friday: The Beehive

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Along Main Street in Danville, Indiana there is a unique place to grab a cup of coffee or a scrumptious piece of bakery. The Beehive is the brainchild of Betsy Bassett, an Indiana resident who had a dream to combine local farm fresh treats with the ambience of a coffee cafe.

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The inspiration for The Beehive.

I stopped by the The Beehive to pick up my usual Cafe Mocha, although I must say I was tempted to try something called a Nutella Latte, (from what I hear this is a huge local favorite!). It only took a few sips to know I had found a really special coffee shop. The Beehive’s Cafe Mocha is a little on the sweet side, but the sweetness is balanced by a subtle earthy flavor. As it cools, the relationship between sweet and bitter only deepens into a beautiful blend.

The cafe itself is warm and cozy.  A fireplace with soft chairs sits at the rear, while cafe tables topped with potted garden plants fill out the front. Nestled into the side wall is a small organic food market that carries national brands along with locally grown produce and dairy products.

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Inside The Beehive – cafe and food market

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Sit by the fire with a cup of coffee at The Beehive!

For those ignoring their diet, The Beehive offers a fantastic array of baked goods. Choosing a snack from the bakery is easier said than done. Everything looks delectable and is baked fresh daily. I finally settled on the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar and I was not disappointed! Layers of doughy peanut butter goodness hug chocolate ribbons and chunks with absolute decadence.

If you ever happen to be in Indiana, it’s worth visiting Danville to check out this gem of a cafe!

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See you at The Beehive!

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c.b.w. 2013

A to Z Abroad: Aberfoyle

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Scotland is probably best known for rugged green hills and feisty, warm-hearted people. I was lucky enough to drive through the stunning scenery of the Troussachs and gaze upon the Scottish crown jewels, but my favorite memory of Scotland is far away from the tourist traps. Hidden in the hilly folds of Stirling is the small village of Aberfoyle, where I  found a little peace from the hustle of a guided tour.

Aberfoyle is a traditional stopover for tourists as the main road passing through the village is considered the gateway into  the Troussachs region, Loch Lommond, and Loch Katrine. While the scenery is beautiful, the small-town charm of Aberfoyle instantly made me feel at home.

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Aberfoyle, Scotland
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

While the rest of the tour group was herded into a tourist trap, I wandered off on my own into the central part of town. One main road runs through Aberfoyle and it is the artery that connects everything from a Scottish Tourism Office to a stationary shop and grocer.

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Downtown Aberfoyle
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

My grumbling stomach lead me straight through the doors of small corner deli. In this unassuming building, they make the best sandwiches known to man. Turkey, tomato, and cucumber were all stuffed artfully into two slices of freshly baked bread. For dessert, I treated myself to a three layer biscuit of caramel, chocolate, and graham cracker crust.

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Home of the best sandwich ever!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

Aside from small-town charm, Aberfoyle has the added bonus of offering a nice place to picnic. I took my lunch stream side and enjoyed the natural beauty of the Scottish countryside. My tour group was probably hanging out in a restaurant and I couldn’t help but think they were really missing out on the real Aberfoyle.

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A lovel picnic view in Aberfoyle
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

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A souvenir better than a postcard!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

It’s been eight years and I still think about Aberfoyle and that sandwich, (yes, it really was that good). This small town should definitely be on the radar if you’re ever in Scotland – just remember to ditch the tourist traps and indulge in a little local flavor instead.

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Part of the A to Z Challenge!

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c.b.w. 2013