Monday, April 21, 2014

HOLIDAY WEEKENDS

One of the things I miss most, apart from family of course, is when there is a holiday weekend at home and everything here is business as usual. This was once again highlighted this weekend with the Easter Holidays.

Sometimes I think it is a romantic view I have in my head. A weekend filled with egg painting, egg hunts, large legs of lamb roasting in the oven. I even think of sunshine, spring flowers and  bright new dresses. In reality I know it will be long queues in the supermarket, overpriced flowers and road rage in the overcrowded carparks. Still this doesn't stop me thinking of home and of what, in my mind at least, I am missing out on.


To compensate, and to try and recreate a bit of the Easter feeling I head off to the kitchen. Hot Cross Buns in my thoughts and hopefully soon to be filling the kitchen with the delicious smells of spices and fruit. After mixing, proving, knocking back and proving again my expectations were fading fast. However into the oven they went, and soon the smells coming from the kitchen were just as I had anticipated. Baking time up and I had 12 wonderfully smelling, but somewhat heavy HXB's in front of me. Not to be disheartened I took the butter from the fridge and spread it liberally onto one of the less than perfect buns. Somewhere along the line the X's had all but disappeared, so they were now merely fruit buns. The photograph makes them appear better than they were.



So for the taste test. The flavour was really good, just an issue with density! I knew what wasn't eaten today would make acceptable doorstops tomorrow, lol. Although maybe popped into the toaster would prolong their life for another day. What had gone wrong? I can only think I added too much flour when kneading the dough. Another day I will be less generous.

However I was now into the holiday baking mode and soon had some scotch eggs and sausage rolls cooling off on the counter. Again trying to bring a bit of home to Shanghai. These were much more successful and would be used for a lunchbox I was making up for my husband and friends to take to the F1 race on Sunday.



I made the lunches up in newly bough bento boxes, not sure how the guys would react to that! I would add rolls filled with Scottish Cheddar, and ham, some home pickled onions and a chocolate Easter Bunny. However, something went wrong with one of the boxes and as Melvin bit into his roll, which he was keeping to eat last as he loves my Scottish Cheddar, he was dismayed to bite into a "dry roll" I had left the filled one on the counter and put an unfilled one in his box. How we laughed, although I know he will not let me forget this incident for a long time.


As everyone at home was waking up to sunshine, chocolate eggs and the promise of a delicious dinner, here in Shanghai it was raining and overcast, although not cold, and I was enjoying a pedicure and manicure with a friend in The Shangri La followed by a cocktail. Not a traditional Easter Sunday but it may become my tradition as long as I am living here in Shanghai.


So although most of the time I love being here and enjoying all Shanghai has to offer, when bank holidays and traditional holidays come around it always highlights the fact that I am far from home, so anything I can do to bring a bit of Scotland to Shanghai helps a bit, but it will never compensate for being at home with family and friends at these times.

Monday, March 31, 2014

TWO YEARS IN SHANGHAI

Can't believe two years has gone since we first arrived here as newbies to Shanghai life. We have spent two wonderful years, challenging at times, but the good times have made up for all of the frustrations we have encountered.

As way of celebrating we decided to invite my husbands team at work for an all British meal at our home. Well, we have been subjected to all sorts of Chinese delicacies, now it was their turn to be eating outside their comfort zone. There was to be 12 of us altogether but a baby on the way and 2 illnesses meant we were done to 9. So I was going to be busy!

This would be fun. I put together a menu which wouldn't challenge them too much. I would serve, Scotch Eggs with Pork and Black Pudding Coating, Haggis Spring Rolls, Beef Stew with Puff Pastry Discs, Fish Pie with Potato topping, Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Smoked Salmon and Salmon Pate with Blinis and Vegetables, Peas, Carrots and Asparagus, all very British.



For dessert I decided to make Pavlova with Strawberries and Mulberries and a Tiramisu. I've made these so many times I knew it would leave more time to concentrate on the main dishes.



I would serve it Chinese style. I wanted them to feel comfortable, and I knew the menu would be challenging enough. Chinese Style simply means all the dishes on the table at once. A challenge for me! I also set the table with chopsticks and cutlery giving them the option. They all used the chopsticks. 



Everything went well. The food was consumed with gusto I'm happy to report. A few beers, bottles of wine and a whisky or two completed a wonderful evening. I was so happy to see that they were a) willing to try my food and b) that they also enjoyed it. There was lots of laughing and lots of fun I think we all had a good time. As I always say, good food, good wine and good people around a table is one of life's big pleasures. Every culture has this in common.


These people have made our time here a great one, they work hard and enjoy what they are doing. They have made me feel part of the team and I am very grateful for that. Now they like my cooking and have asked if I will cook them an Indian dinner next. Chinese are not backwards at coming forward, lol. I will be delighted to do this at some point.

I have had requests for recipes, the fish pie was a huge hit, and also a confession that they had considered eating before they came as they didn't know if they would like what I was serving. At least they were honest.

I look forward now until the next time we do this and to another year here in Shanghai. 
Life is good. 



Thursday, March 13, 2014

SUNSHINE COMES to SHANGHAI

On one of the first really sunny Spring days of the year my husband and I decided to take a ferry ride across the river and enjoy a Sunday afternoon wandering around the city. So having spent 40rmb, or a whole 4p on two tickets, and spent less than 5 minutes on the ferry, we were soon at our starting point.

It was immediately obvious that most of Shanghai had the same idea and the roads and streets were packed with people out for a stroll. Spring it seemed had brought people outdoors in much the same way it causes flowers to bloom.


As always there is something to see at every turn. People playing cards in the streets, impromptu food vendors and of course washing strung out on any available space, usually a tree or handy railing, no problem that it is along the side of a busy road. I am not really sure how clean it will be by the end of the day!

  


As we were close to the fabric and bric-a-brac markets it was not long before I spied a lace stand. Then I realised there was not only one but lots of them lining the street. Shoes, sunglasses, cutlery, meat, fish, almost anything you could think of was somewhere out there to be bought.


On turning a corner I realised how in the midst of all that is exciting and different there was a piece of home before me. Yes Tesco in Shanghai. However, I do hope Shanghai doesn't become another city which losses it's identity to big world corporations. I know it is inevitable that they will move in but I do hope when shopping here I am still able to recognise that I am somewhere different, somewhere still full of surprises.

Will these ever change so I know where I am? lol. Maybe this is one case where I'd like to think English translations could be written alongside. 



It was so nice to be out walking. I spend lot of time being driven around and always promise myself I'll walk more but for various reasons this doesn't always happen. In summer it's too hot, and I find I walk even less! So this really is the perfect time of the year to enjoy the city on foot.

When it was time to make our way back across the river we stood on the Bund, Puxi side or west of the river, before heading back to Pudong, or as you've probably guessed, East of the river. From here we were able to take in one of the most amazing views, and probably the most recognisable view of the city. Before us lies what will be the 2nd highest building in the world when it is completed at the end of the year. On completion it will be almost exactly twice the height of The Shard in London. Quite a height!



So before the heat of summer arrives I plan to walk more, to see more of the city on foot instead of always driving past in the car thinking, I'd like to see that. I will endeavour to see more.






Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SHANGHAI TO DARJEELING

I have just returned from an amazing trip to India, Kolkata, then on to Darjeeling. The Kolkata stage is for another blog, another day.

As we travelled from the airport along narrow crowded streets, which were made even worse by a festival taking place, we thought we would never arrive at our destination. Still it was anything but boring, lots to see and to take our mind off the appalling state of the roads. Four and a half hours later we arrived at our destination, tired but happy. The next morning we were up bright and early for our visit to a tea garden. Darjeeling is the home of some of the best teas in the world, and we were lucky enough to be visiting one of the best gardens. For once this was not a business trip only pleasure.



Once again we found ourselves being driven down appalling roads, although road is not really the word. We were on dirt paths which had been washed away by the monsoons last year. Not much left, and with the mountain falling away beneath us it was a bit hair raising. Then when we were told it's better not to wear seat belts as it's easier to jump out if you have to!!!!!!!




However once we reached our destination at around 5,000ft it was well worth being thrown around in the back of a jeep. There was the tea gardens in all their splendour, and a beautiful colonial bungalow where would be meeting the estate manager. 


Over tea, darjeeling of course, on the veranda with Mr & Mrs Sen we chatted about the gardens, the bungalow and what it was like living in such a rural setting. We were surprised that their daughter undertakes this journey we had just taken twice a day. Going to, and coming home from school. I'm sure you get used to it. They were charming hosts. 


Tea over we were soon being shown the wonderful scenery all around.This is an organic garden and I was surprised to see lots of lemongrass grown all around. This is a natural insect repellent. What a wonderful idea. The tea gardens were silent as it is not picking season, but we were able to enjoy the warm sun and soak up all the surrounding area before heading off to the processing plant, again silent as it is out of season. There was some maintenance going on but no tea production. The factory workers do the maintenance themselves so they are never really not working.



Tour over we headed back to the bungalow. A very welcome G&T was offered, what better place than to enjoy it than on the veranda of this wonderful home. I could imagine this having been done many times in earlier days. Then we moved on to the most delicious lunch which had been prepared when we were doing the tour. It was all laid out in the dining room and each dish looked fantastic. Where to start? No problem, we were encouraged to take some of everything and take it out on to the veranda. Al fresco eating is my idea of heaven, and with the views before me this really was a treat.

Rice with spicy beans
Spinach and paneer
Raita
Chicken tikka
Lentil patties
Cauliflower and peas


Okay hungry yet? Even better is that the vegetable were all grown in the garden, the paneer and yoghurt came from their own cows. Very impressive. As for the taste, delicious. Every mouthful tastier than the next. Well you really did have to go for seconds, it would have been impolite not to, right?

We left very happy, very full and pleased we had made the journey, however scared we were.

We couldn't have anticipated such a wonderful day, it was way over and above expectations. Our hosts were gracious, and extended wonderful hospitality. I would like to think one day we may go back, but more importantly would love to be able to return kindness extended to us by Mr & Mrs Sen.

I will never forget this trip.





Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SHANGHAI KITCHEN MASSACRE!

Produce is very seasonal here in Shanghai, but now with my Mandarin improving I am now able to request things I want. My vegetable man is really good at tracking things down that he doesn't normally sell. Only problem is every time I go he is smiling and handing me my never ending supply of what I've asked for. Most recently it has been beetroot. Week after week I am being presented with it, and I don't want to be rude and refuse it. Thankfully I love beetroot, in all forms, pickled, raw, made into chutney or dips.

   
So in an effort to use it up I have been pickling and making chutneys. However this inevitably results in a kitchen that would defy CSI clearing up! No matter how hard I try I end up with a kitchen that looks like a scene from a bloody massacre. The more I chop, whizz and boil the more it splashes, spills and generally finds it way across all the kitchen surfaces, including the floor. Try and wipe it up and it merely spreads out.


 Please do not call on me to cover up a crime scene.



However once its finally constrained in its jar I can look forward to eating it. One of my favourite ways is sliced picked beetroot on a toasted bagel with cream cheese, Mmm! I love it chopped into a spinach and orange salad or whizzed with natural yogurt and a hint of mint to make a delicious dip, and a salad always tastes better with a little on the side.
I now have to learn how to say in Mandarin "Stop with the beetroot" It's always challenging here.


Happy to see my cupboard now filling up with jars of beetroot. However I do end up passing it along as it is pretty expensive to buy here, as are any imports, so ex pat friends always appreciate my efforts, Chinese friends not so much and they are not shy about telling you lol.

PICKLED BEETROOT RECIPE

1kg beets, 200g caster sugar, 300mls white wine vinegar, 200mls cold water.
1 star anise, 3 cloves, 2 bay leaves, 2 tsps balsamic vinegar (optional)

Roast beets in oven at 200c until a knife is easily inserted. Remove skin while hot. It will rub off easily, use rubber gloves! Slice and pack into sterilised jars.

Put sugar, water, vinegar (not balsamic at this stage) and spices into a pan and bring to boil. Turn down and simmer until sugar dissolves. Sieve out spices and add balsamic. 

Pour over sliced beetroot in jars and seal. 
Enjoy the results.





Thursday, January 16, 2014

SHANGHAI TRADITIONS

Haven't posted for some time, could blame the holidays, or the fact that I am becoming so used to everyday life here that there is nothing new to write about. However, these are both untrue, I have just become lazy about posting and just needed something to prod me back into sharing life here with you.

There are many wonderful traditions here in China, and my husband arriving home one night last week with a "goodie" bag made me want to share the tradition of giving these bags when a new baby is born.


With the arrival of two babies recently into the" Twinings Family", and one due any minute, we have also discovered that my husband has become the person responsible for giving two of these babies, so far, their English names. Chinese people like to have an English name, makes it easier when the are working with foreigners. I am assured his senior position is the only reason for him naming babies, lol. So if in the future you find yourself meeting a Chinese Isla, or Fiona, then you will know exactly where their name came from. There is also a Mary, but this was a request from one of Robin's colleagues as she did not already have an English name. Yes, it was decided it might be nice to spread some good Scottish names across the globe.

Anyway, back to the gift boxes. They are small and contain a few goodies, and a couple of not so good goodies!


There will always be sweets. this time our luck was in with Ferrer Rocher, although in the past there has been some more traditional Chinese candies which aren't really to our taste. Hershey chocolate is also often included. But there is one item in gift bags which belongs because of tradition, but just seems so well, so weird to us Westerners! What am I talking about? A preserved egg!!!!

These are preserved in a mixture of ash, lime, salt, clay and rice and left for weeks or months. They have quite a sulphurous aroma when broken into. As I'm sure you can imagine. Not really my favourite, although they don't taste quite as bad as they sound. They come in bubble packaging and you could be fooled into thinking something much tastier lies inside. Sometimes a tea soaked egg is substituted, which it had been in our bag. Whew!



The egg I'm sure signifies birth, and is a very traditional offering. I like to think of people hanging on to traditions. So often they get buried under the umbrella of global living, where cultures all seem to meldtogether. Whereas I'm all in favour of globalisation I think it is still important to hang on to our own traditions. Scotland has lost it's "guising" to the American "trick or treat". Why does this have to happen?

I say let's keep our our own traditions whilst embracing the traditions of other cultures. We don't have to adopt them to understand them. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SHANGHAI COOL DOWN

As the days are turning colder, the leaves barely clinging to the trees and the palms all being wrapped up for winter, I know bad weather is ahead. However, as the sun is still shining and temperatures this week are still in mid teens during the day, although much colder at night, I find it hard to think that winter has arrived.




This is the time of year that reminds me most of being at home. I know it rains a lot in Scotland but I do have memories of chilly days and the ground littered with leaves. Autumn has always been one of my favourite seasons.


One of the things I remember most was my Gran's homemade broth. My Mum also made it but there was always something about my Gran's soup. It was always warming on a cold day. I could smell it as I walked through the door. It has many fond memories for me. Many times I was with her in her kitchen as she chopped and grated her way to a pot of soup.

Over the years I too cooked the family soup. I'm sure every family has these recipes, probably not written down, but forever remembered. There probably never was an actual recipe, and the soup would be made with whatever you had. One important ingredient in our soup was broth mixture. Now, this is something I have yet to see outside Scotland, but basically it is a mixture of dried pulses. The dried peas being a favourite.




With leeks, carrots, potatoes and usually turnip, or swede as the English call it, you have the makings of a pot of soup. I use beef shin to make the stock. But I just throw everything in together and leave to cook for several hours. Towards the end of cooking I throw in a couple of grated carrots which gives it a nice colour. In Shanghai you cannot buy turnip so I substituted kohl rabi, which tastes pretty similar I think. I also had some cabbage in the fridge so this was an extra edition. My first bowl of broth this winter.



Oh it tasted so good, even better on day two, and by day three it was so delicious. All the flavours had melded together, and it gets thicker and thicker. One thing is you cannot make a small pot of this soup. Now I remember why I love this soup, not only the flavour but all the memories that come flooding back as I tuck into it.



It is so important that these traditions are passed down, I know my daughters make "the soup" and hopefully there will be memories in their's too.

So as winter approaches, I know this will be made pretty often over the next few months. As I head home to spend Christmas in Scotland I am making a note to prepare a pot of soup with each of my girls, just to make sure the tradition carries on. With my little granddaughter, Daisy, now three, I think it's time she was in on the secrets. I'm sure she will grate a mean carrot.