Dear Hong Kong,
Pardon me for being so forward but I have to say it: I think I love you.
Yes, our affair was brief, just 2.5 days but oh what glorious days. The sun shone, the skies were, if not perfectly clear, clearer than in Chengdu. Instead of paint fumes and pollution I simply smelled the ocean and the scent of delicious fried doughnuts wafting on the wind.
The public transportation in every form-train, bus, double-decker tram, taxi, subway, boat, and of course the hundreds of outdoor escalators was glorious. Riding in the upper level of those trams with my hair blowing in the wind made me as giddy as a 3 month old puppy on her first car ride in the spring time. I could hardly keep from clapping and bouncing up and down in my seat.
Lang Kwai Feng? I love you. I love that I saw the words “organic” and “free range” and “burger” and “Lebanese food” as often as I saw “noodles” and “dumplings.” I love that “meat” is not just another word for “pork” in Hong Kong the way it is in Chengdu. I loved the smells.
Ohhhh the food smells. So many different ones: bakery, noodles, soup, dumplings, dim sum. Turning onto each new street felt like opening up a new drawer in a spice chest every time.
I loved that I saw people wearing everything and anything, gay couples holding hands, punky teenagers, yuppie pregnant 30-somethings. Distinguished looking old British men. I love that the whole “Time Out Hong Kong” issue was about sex and censorship and all sorts of juicy things that could never be published on the Mainland.
I loved the bustle, the energy, the rush of the late-night crowd and the early morning commuters. The density, the thrill of that many people and that much excitement.
I loved the little school children in those adorably tailored British uniforms instead of the baggy track suits kids wear here on the Mainland.
I loved the grocery store where I found everything I could ever want and more. And it was all cheaper than in Chengdu. How? Why? And why did the Mainland airport security people take my deliciously inexpensive honey away from me??
I love that I ate Western food and it tasted GOOD good, not just Chengdu good.
I loved that I heard at least 5 languages rather than only 1 or 2. I love the lyrical quality of Cantonese, the gentle sing-song of the sounds, so musical after the stacatto and spitting of Sichuanese.
Oh and on spitting. I loved that no one in Hong Kong hawks and spits on the ground indoors, maybe not even outdoors! I loved that awful poor quality cigarettes are NOT the security blanket of choice for every man and boy in Hong Kong the way they are in Chengdu.
I loved the trees and the beaches, the breezes and the hilltops. I loved the amazing flower markets and the gloriously shady sidewalks and staircases up and down the hillsides.
In short, Hong Kong, I love you. I miss you. I want you back. Preferably sometime in late December. Preferably for a full 3 year tour if we can swing it someday. I never thought I’d say this, but you might be even more irresistible than New York City. It’s true. I may have just found me the most perfect city in the whole wide world.
Yours in dim sum and sunshine and double-decker trams forever,
Once upon a time, several years ago, Chris and I made a cheese souffle for dinner. And it was glorious. We swooned as we ate, especially me, the “not a really big fan of eggs usually” gal. The cheesy, gooey, airiness. The refinement. The elegance. The ease. It felt like we should be at some lovely river-side cafe in Paris instead of in our apartment in front of the tv. We swore we’d have to make it again and again…but we never did.
Fast forward a few years and home girl here needs a souffle like woah. Don’t know why. Maybe its the “get more protein” kick I’m on, maybe its just the elegant simplicity of the whole thing, but I’ve had a souffle-brain for weeks.
And tonight, my fluffy egg wishes and souffle dreams came true. Fortified by the knowledge that the only things left in our fridge were eggs and some 3 day old bok choy, and traumatized by previous 6pm trips to the grocery store, we looked up our old recipe and, you know what? It’s a lot easier than we remembered.
That’s right. Souffle is easy. I mean, its not grilled cheese-easy or toast-easy, but it’s close. And frankly, this recipe is fool-proof.
The cheese and the eggs are just a pile of fluffy, heavenly protein. The paprika and nutmeg add a depth you really shouldn’t skip. It’s an easy recipe to cut in half (we did) and wouldn’t you know, its vegetarian and supposedly “low cal.”
And while its almost a given that this recipe pairs well with some sauteed greens, bok choy doused in Chinese oyster sauce also makes a surprisingly good pairing: sweet and savory.
We found this recipe a few years back in a Molly Wizenberg column in Bon Appetit. It’s perfect as it is but feel free to experiment. Lacking grueyere in China, we made do with some swiss-like cheese and it was still lovely.
Just make sure not to open the oven door until the tops are golden brown, stir-fry some greens while you are waiting, and you too can have a dinner that will begin and end with a oh-so-cultured sigh of pure culinary contentment.
Classic Cheese Souffle
Serves 4-6 main course portions (with a side dish)
2 Tablespoons finely grated parmesan
1 Cup whole milk
2.5 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg
4 large egg yolks
5 large egg whites
1 Cup Gruyere cheese, grated
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 400F.Butter 6-cup (1 1/2-quart) soufflé dish. Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides. Warm milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming.
Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and loses raw taste, about 3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 1 minute. Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in paprika, salt, and nutmeg. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Scrape soufflé base into large bowl. Cool to lukewarm. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm or room temperature soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions while gradually sprinkling in Gruyère cheese. Transfer batter to prepared dish.
Place dish in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375F. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 25 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.
Holiday cards. I remember my mom arranging all of those we used to receive onto of the sideboard in our dining room, pictures of round-cheek babies wearing Tartan skirts and brag letters with candy-cane borders slipping out every which way.
After I left home, I spent a few years hating on Christmas cards. The waste of paper and resources and time! The desperately cheerful tone of the saddest letters and the gratingly false humility of the most boastful. Why do a Christmas card?
Then, perhaps predictably, I got all married up and domesticated. I moved across the world to China. I became lonesome for my cozy group of friends and family back home.
And I started jonesing for a Christmas card of my own, badly.
Skype and email is great, but sometimes what you really crave to give is a piece of 30% post-consumer recycled paper with crappy penmanship and some snowmen on it.
So I visited my good friend Etsy. Etsy is in fine form this holiday season with something like a bajillion and seventy-four holiday cards for sale in all shapes, sizes, colors and persuasions. I know. I’ve spent hours looking.
Do you want penguins? snowman? funky owls decorating trees? Merry Christmas? Happy Hanukah? Merry Everything? Do you prefer poetic or irreverent? Traditional color schemes or something a bit more modern? Whatever it is that you want, they have it. And it’s beautiful, and probably already bookmarked as a favorite by me.
The strange thing was though, as I scrolled through all of these more than serviceable pieces of craftsmanship, I felt a rising tide of discontentment. With each one, there was always just one little detail that I didn’t like, or maybe the price was just way too high for me. And then, even when they were perfect, I still couldn’t hit “buy.”
And then I realized, after wayyy too many hours of this senseless behavior, the problem was that I didn’t want to just buy a card, I wanted to put some soul into it for the people I care about. I wanted that card to stand in for me and Chris not being there to celebrate with our friends and family ourselves.
So I decided the only way to get the satisfaction I craved, was to do it myself (oh dear).
So, I did. Armed with a pen, a few water colors, and a night with the hubs out of town, I sat at the kitchen table and channeled my holiday muses. I focused deeply on the pressure of every pen stroke, the curve of every brush movement. It made for an intensely satisfying and gloriously fun couple of hours. For me to focus that quietly for that long without words was refreshing and quieting in a way that I just didn’t expect.
And when I was done, I had what you see at the top of this post.
It’s really not good, its really not well done, and I’d like to put out the disclaimer now that no, we did not adopt a 3 year old to draw our holiday card. If we had, it would probably look nicer. But really, I don’t care. And I don’t think the people who receive it will either.
In spite of the wobbly paint job, it was an immensely fun project. I waited patiently for the paper to dry (I took a blow-dryer to it) and then scanned it onto our computer and plopped it into a word document where I’ve been fuddling with it every since, changing up the holiday greetings and coming up with snarky personalized quips.
And see, that’s the best part! Since its my card on my computer, it can say whatever I want and it can change for each person. Some people might get “Happy Holidays” but some people might get inappropriate jokes about penguins. I just have to be careful about which card goes into which envelope.
All that’s left to do now is to find some quality paper to print them on. Oh and tracking down addresses. And hoping that my cards get there closer to Christmas than Valentine’s Day.
Anyways, I never thought I’d recommend a craft project on this blog but if you keep your expectations low (if you have my artistic abilities, keep them REALLY low) it ends up being wayyy more satisfying a project than you might think.
And what it lacks in artistic quality, I think it more than makes up for in fun (or quirkiness) and the ability to personalize. If you have a scanner in your printer at home, its also a super, super easy project-and potentially cheaper than store-bought cards.
Especially if you already have people’s addresses and don’t live half-way across the world. Got to get to work on that one…
Ahh the Marine Corps Ball. The highlight on the expat calendar of Chengdu.
For weeks every tailor in town has been furiously sewing to turn pixilated computer print outs of Vera Wang and…oh who am I kidding I know nothing about high fashion so lets just say FANCY DRESS MAKERS into ball gowns for the gorgeous ladies of Chengdu.
There were times in the past few weeks that I felt like I was back in the middle school lunchroom, trying to figure out which table we might fit in with, where we should sit with our buffet dinner plates. In the end, we took the easy way out and let someone else who was buying up tickets in bulk, buy our tickets for us, just to keep it all a bit of a surprise.
Finally yesterday the nail salons and hair salons were packed, the babysitters were prepped, and the expat adults of Chengdu partied.
And last night it was so lovely to see everyone all dressed up and dolled up to the nines. The marines were fantastic in their ceremony and they looked stunning in their dress uniforms. Among the ladies, there were some amazing feats of Chengdu and Shanghai tailoring at the ball (as well as less than amazing ones, of course). There were couples, freed for the evening from their offspring, getting down like it was their first date in college. I loved watching all of it, all of the happiness.
Of course on the other hand, and no offense to the Marines–they totally pulled off a fantastic event and a great ceremony–I think it is the nature of these large events no matter who throws them, that they often end up feeling a little like a distant cousin’s wedding.
You know what I’m talking about. The wedding where you don’t really know the wedding party very well. Where you sort of can figure that its going to chicken or fish on the menu and not some wild new culinary delight. Where you know there will be formal photos taken and not some fun wacky photo booth with props like at your best friend’s reception.
Where you know that, if you are really, totally, honest with yourself, that you are really going not for the ceremony, but rather to witness the sheer hilarious humanity of the reception: the happy tears, the sad tears, the drama and the drunks.
It’s not about what will happen, it’s about which character will be acting in which role for the evening’s performance.
Thankfully, (or disappointingly for the mischievous among us :)) last night did not deliver high on drama. Sure there were the minor questions surrounding seating arrangements, the disappointing aroma of overcooked broccoli in the buffet line, the unfortunate dance steps of the overly intoxicated. (as well as the incredibly fortunate dance steps of the talented, wow!! there are people here who can really dance!!) There was the DJ who seemed to think that “mixing” meant playing each song for approximately 45 seconds before using the best part of each song as a moment to transition into a number so lacking in danceability that the whole dance floor would empty instantly, as if someone had just pulled a fire alarm.
But there was also a lovely ceremony by the Marines, the first (and therefore best) cheesecake I’ve had since arriving in Chengdu, and a great night with some great people all glammed up and looking fabulous. For our first Ball, it was a lovely experience.
And now, it’s time to start brunch for our hungover friends and party revelers!
Photo Credit: Phil Benusa-Phil, this is probably one of the better photos of Chris and I that will ever have, thank you for making us look cool at least once for our future generations 🙂
Chris’ Jacket: tailor-made in 36 hours in Calcutta
My Qipao: A “secret” tailor across from the fantastic Fujinese wonton shop. Thank you AQ for sharing her with me and babysitting me through our first visit. It was quality, comfortable, and fun. (and went perfectly with Chris’ bad boy Asian-fusion look)
My hair: lots of curlers, a few french braids, and a pony-tail in front of my mirror. I’m a DIYer born out of thriftiness and laziness. 15 minutes of real work and only about 10 bobby pins, if you want instructions, let me know.
My husband: dead sexy isn’t he? I think I got lucky with this one but if I ever find another source of men as lovely as him, I’ll be sure to let you know 🙂
The blog has fallen into a state of abandonment the past month or so and for that, I am sorry. When I logged in last night I practically expected bats to fly out of the computer or WordPress to follow apart like a decrepit old house.
It feels like its been way too long. I feel like a data dump on our lives is in order, even though things haven’t been very exciting lately.
So here’s what we’ve/I’ve been up to:
1. Lots of sitting on the couch, catching up on TV. Lots.
Chris has been sick and sniffly on and off since we got back from Malaysia over a month ago. On the weekends he’s just been trying to recover from working all week. The air has also been pretty smog-tastic. Result? Lots of time spent catching up on Hulu.
I’m not usually a big TV watcher, but I’ve been enjoying watching the first few episodes of shows that I’ve heard good things about or catching up on shows I used to watch only once in awhile.
So we’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica (wow! intense but really excellent), Boardwalk Empire (jury is still out on this prohibition era Sopranos-esque show) and Running Wilde (surprisingly funny with goofy one-liners and lots of puns. Admittedly, its so bad, it should probably be cancelled but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts).
We’ve also watched a few episodes of Outsourced. I originally thought this show was incredibly rascist and awful but surprisingly (and guiltily) we’re sort of enjoying this incredibly shallow and unrealistic but also really light-hearted show. Maybe that’s just how much we miss India, that we are willing to put up with a crappy TV series just because it takes place there?
And of course I’m desperately trying to catch up on The Office and Mad Men (which, at Season 1, Episode 2, I’m sooo far behind on).
This next paragraph might come off “as a bunch of baloney” as my father would say, but I’m finding all of the narratives in these TV series are inspiring new thoughts and ideas in my head and waking my brain up again to the art of story-telling (In addition to books and of course actually sitting down and, you know, writing).
Why TV and not movies which arguably have more novel-like narratives? TV is more manageable. Little known fact about me: I don’t watch many movies because I can’t, its literally nearly painful for me to sit still that long.
So yes, while TV is sort of a lame passive activity, I’m also finding that I’m getting something out of it.
2. New Exercise Routines! Including Shredding!
As I’ve written about here before, not being able to get up in the morning and run outside here seriously bums me out. I’ve never been good about going to the gym. The amount of time and effort it takes to get there always seems like a waste to me. I’d rather run around my neighborhood, do some pushups afterwards, and save myself the time it takes to pack a bag and get to a gym.
Which is why I’m in love with Shredding*. Say what you want. Jillian is so annoying I usually mute her, but her work out kicks.my.butt. And it only takes 20 minutes. 20 minutes of panting, and sweating, and wanting to die but still, just 20 minutes.
And the crazy part? It works! I’m realizing just how little my previous “strength exercises” were doing for me. I’ve only been doing it every other day or so for a few weeks and already I can tell my posture is better and I have these sweet little muscles popping up in all sorts of new places (like my shoulders, wow!).
Coupled with some strength band exercises that I’ve started doing during our extended Hulu marathons and I’m feeling in much better shape than I have since we got here.
3. Getting ready for the Holidays!
I love the holidays, I love the baking, the preparations, the crafting that I always say I’m going to do but never really do. I love the decorations and the cozy sweaters and the cider and hot chocolate. I love Christmas lights and firelight and candles.
I’m going to do a whole post on this soon but for now its enough to know that, when my parents came to visit a few weeks ago, my mom brought holiday hand towels, cinnamon and pine candles, and about 15 pounds of baking chocolate in her luggage. Oh, and there’s definitely a “fugly” homemade holiday card coming out from Chez Dumm this year. Stay tuned for lots of holiday-themed posts coming up.
4. A home budget!
Finally, I have figured out a spreadsheet budget that works for me. Inspired by Katheats, I created my own geeky month-to-month budget for spending and saving (color coded for the seasons!). I’m in love. I love having a handle on what we are spending and I love that I was able to figure out a system that works for us even though are spending habits are totally different than most peoples in the US (all cash purchases and online orders).
Is this something you’d want to see? Would my template be useful for anyone? It has pretty colors if that is a selling point?
5. Thinking about what comes next
As in, what do I want to be doing that I’m not doing right now, (saving the world, working harder at writing a novel, getting a Master’s as soon as we are in a city/place where it’s feasible) and what do we want to be doing as a family that we should be planning for (saving the world, buying land in West Virgina to build a wee little cabin on, travel, bidding again in a few months, ankle-biters, etc).
Being cooped up a lot has given us looooooots of time to talk and think and plan. In some ways it’s been an intense 6 weeks or so. Less going out with friends, more sitting on the couch having grown up conversations. That’s probably part of the reason I haven’t blogged much lately. We’ve been doing more talking and thinking than doing.
Fear not though, I think we’ve got our mojo back. We’re ready to get back out there in the world, throw crazy wonderful holiday parties, meet new people, travel, and see new things. Get ready dear readers, its the holiday season and soon you’ll have more posts from Hot Pot again than you’ll know what to do with! 🙂
*No I’m not being paid by Jillian Michaels, nor did I receive a free copy of the DVD. I just really like the workout. The day someone pays me something on this blog or sends me a free trial of anything, you will know.
We are getting into squash and tubers in the Dumm House. What the farmer will bring, Chris and Dani will cook…or at least try to
So on the menu tonight: bright purple tubers and a squash so hard that we literally took turns hacking it apart with a butcher’s knife. I’m pretty sure we dented the kitchen counter in.
Purple hash with onions and sausage? A potential winner!! But who knew that purple potatoes would be so sweet? (Luckily they went inadvertently well with the fennel pork sausage we found in the bottom of the freezer)
The roasted pumpkin? Not so much!! Who knew that a squash that hard could be rendered so mushy and stringy so quickly?
Oh well, if if nothing else, it was dinner a la technicolor. I’m still thinking about this potato hash. It was the first time we made a hash at home (we lean more towards the Asian cuisine most nights) and it was shockingly easy and filling and not too greasy. With a few tweaks (we have to figure out how to complement the sweetness of those purple potatoes) and a little green salad on the side, this one might go into the rotation. Looking forward to the roasted pumpkin seeds tomorrow…
Some people collect china patterns. I prefer Chinese smart cars.