Monday, March 2, 2015

STAYCATION SHANGHAI

For Chinese New year my husband and  were heading to Tokyo. I was so excited as I have never been to Japan, and I was so looking forward to some great sushi.

However we never made it thanks to my taking poorly. Flu! But just to make it worse I had also picked up a stomach bug. So we were homebound. Now the coughing, sneezing, snot and headache I could probably have put up with but the constant nausea, that's so hard to deal with.

For three days I was never out of bed, and for two weeks I couldn't shake of the feeling of sickness, and I had absolutely no appetite. For me, who lives and breathes to shop and cook this was a disaster. I didn't even want to read my food magazines or pick up a cook book. I existed on tea and toast for a whole week! I so wanted it all to end. I can't even imagine what life would be like without my cooking. I spend so much time doing it. Either deciding what to eat, shopping for ingredients, cooking and ultimately sharing it with friends. I was not a happy person.

I still couldn't shake it off but fortunately as it was the Chinese New Year my husband was at home taking good care of me. This weekend I started to eat a bit more but only because I knew I had to. I was feeling pretty shakey on my feet. Can't say I enjoyed it which is something I never thought I'd say.

Then last night. Oh dear, whatever was troubling me came to the fore, with vengeance. But today it's like a new me. It must have worked it's way out of my system.

I've just made some tomato soup and I'm so happy to be back in my kitchen. I'm going to take it easy, but not having the feeling of nausea is such a relief. I was actually starting to think it would never go.

So hopefully I will have something nice to blog in the next few days.

So a very belated  XIN NIAN KUAILE    Happy new year.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A WEEK at my TABLE

People from home often ask if we eat Chinese every day, and there will be some weeks when we pretty much do. However, as you know I love to cook, and I do cook Chinese on occasion, but this week we pretty much worked our way around the world.

MONDAY: Cauliflower cheese soup with Cauliflower Pakora. English/Indian I think I'd call it.


This came about as I had just started cooking cauliflower for cauliflower cheese when my hubby called and said he would be late. I poured out half of the water, added hot milk to make up. When cooked blitzed it and added grated cheese. I also rescued a few florets to make pakora. Just dipped them in a batter with some curry powder added and deep fried just before serving. My husband loved it, and there was leftovers for his lunch the following day. Time in kitchen, just as long as cauliflower took to cook and blitz, about 25 mins. Another 10 before serving to cook pakora.

TUESDAY: Chicken Paprikas with boiled rice. Definitely Hungarian. A favourite when I spent time living there.


A really quick and easy meal. Chicken strips, onion, chopped garlic and mushrooms fried off with S&P and a heaped teaspoon of paprika. When its cooked through add a cup of sour cream and stir through. Boil rice. couldn't be easier. Time in kitchen is about as long as the rice takes to cook. While it's cooking you can stir fry the chicken etc.

WEDNESDAY: Nasi Goreng. We're now in Indonesia. No reason except I love this dish and I'm using leftover rice from yesterday and some chicken strips I'd held back.



Ok I always make too much rice! So a Nasi is often on the menu the day after we have rice. I had held back some chicken strips and defrosted some prawns. I think 3 prawns and maybe 4 pieces of chicken per portion works. I chopped and onion and red pepper. I did make my own Nasi Paste, but it is easy, and quick, which is important.  I hate all these half empty jars that litter the fridge and I can never remember how long the should last, or when the were bought. I'll put Nasi recipe at end of blog. It's just a case of stir frying everything together with the paste. I add the rice last. I serve with a fried egg and a few slithers of spring onion. Again maybe 15 minutes cooking, and the paste takes all of 10 minutes to make. I served some ribs with this but the were taken from the freezer, already in marinade, I find this way it really penetrates and gives plenty of flavour. In the oven for 30 mins. So these are cooking while I get on with the rest of supper.

Thursday: Thai  Fish Curry. Thailand!


I use the extra prawns I'd defrosted yesterday a piece of salmon and this time I am using a pre made spice paste. I can buy this in packets and it's a one time use, so no waste. Coconut milk, green beans and noodles are the main ingredients. I fry off the paste until oil starts to separate, add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. I add the fish and beans (sometimes I use mange tout) you can use whatever you have.If I have lemon grass I will pop one in. The noodles are soaking in boiling water to be added at the end. At this point I usually add a splash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Not necessary but it can lift the flavour a bit. 
I put noodles in bottom of bowls add the curry mixture and scatter over some coriander. Once again quick and easy and maybe 20 minutes in total. I like to serve with some naan bread to mop up the sauce.

FRIDAY: Fish, of course. Harks back to when I was a child and the fish van would come around on a Friday. Everyone ate fish.
However these days it's not going to be breaded haddock in bright orange breadcrumbs. What made them that colour ?
Sichuan Squid, followed by Fish Pie. An East meets West I guess!


Squid dredged in flour mixed with Sichuan pepper. Simply deep fry. Easy and delicious. Just don't overcook........  It can get tough if cooked too long. A couple of minutes is fine. A piece of lemon on the side to squeeze over and some, in this case, sweet chilli dipping sauce.


Fish Pie was a mix of salmon, cod and prawns all poached in milk, with a few frozen peas thrown in towards the end. I thicken the poaching liquid to make a sauce, first removing some to use in the mashed potato topping. This is completed in the time it take to boil and mash potatoes and assemble the pie. It can be done ahead and reheated. 30 minutes should see this dish completed. Fish cooking, the sauce made while potatoes are boiling. I always add an egg yolk to my mash as it helps it puff up and brown when in oven, or under the grill.

So that's a look at what was on my dinner table last week. No more than 30 minutes spent in the kitchen for any of these meals, and I hope you'll agree they all look very nice. As for the taste, you'll just have to take my word for it, delicious. Hubby left clean plates every night so I must be doing something right. 

You don't have to spend hours in the kitchen to produce good home cooked meals. It's all down to organisation. Making best of leftovers and having a good selection of ingredients in your store cupboard.

HAPPY COOKING.

NASI PASTE RECIPE:

3 tbsp oil, 4 chopped garlic cloves, 1small onion(or 2 shallots) chopped, 15g rasted salted peanuts, 6 red chillies chopped, 1tbsp tomato puree, 1/2 tsp dried shrimp paste, 1 tbsp ketchap manis (sweet soy sauce)
Put everything into a food processor and blend.
I actually did it in my mortar and pestle. Less washing up!






  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BUTTERNUTSQUASH, COCONUT & CURRY SOUP

This blog is for Judith.
 Judith is a lady I met last year just after she had arrived in Shanghai from Holland. As with all the "newbies" she was suffering with the culture shock which comes with arriving in Shanghai. She had reached out to a local web site which offers help to people like herself, and I had realised she lived close by, and that I could offer her help, or support, to settle in. Soon we were sitting in a coffee exchanging our stories and enjoying a coffee.

Judith's journey to Shanghai had been a bit of a whirlwind. Living with her partner of many years, working at a job she loved, and had been doing for a long while, she was suddenly having to make a big decision. Well, to be honest several big life changing decisions, all of which were going to have to happen very quickly and change her life dramatically.  Her partner was moving to Shanghai, and of course Judith was willing to come with him, to give up her job, her family and her home to accompany him. But with, I'm sure a lot of thought behind this decision. Then she realised the Chinese will not give visas to an unmarried partner. So within one month she was married, gave up her job and took a leap into the unknown. Phew. This would have caused many of us to think again. A brave lady.

People often scorn the life of the expat wife seeing it as an easy ride. I agree it's a great life but has it's drawbacks. These these ladies as strong, independent and very resilient. We support our husbands, making our homes, in a strange place, feel as comfortable and as like home as we can. A place they can come home to and relax at the end of what can be very long hard days. Also we spend a lot of time on our own, we have to learn to enjoy our own company, how to deal with various issues that arise, either with workmen, landlords or whatever is thrown our way.

But all this gives us a strength that often we didn't know we had. Some find it harder than others, but we all offer support to each other. Judith embraced it. She did what many of us do. She uses this time to learn new skills she never had time for before. Some work some don't. I'm sure won't mind me saying the knitting didn't work! However the quilting did. She also is using this time learning to cook. This is something I can help her with. So Judith this recipe is for you as you are always asking me to post my soup recipes. I hope you like it.

RECIPE Serves 4

Onion chopped, butternut squash (1 small or half a large one), cubed,
1tbsp curry powder (more if you want it spicier), 1 box/tin coconut milk, water, S&P, 1 apple, coriander (fresh)

Using twice the amount of squash to the onion, (doesn't have to be exact) is my mantra to soup making.

Gently sweat off the onion with a pinch of salt until it starts to soften. Add the curry powder and continue cooking until you can smell the spices. Add the cubed squash and stir to coat with the spices.

Add the water until it just covers the ingredients in the pot, add S&P. Bring to a boil, turn down and cook until squash is soft.

At this point I liquidise the soup then add the coconut milk to the consistency you like. Now a bit strange I know, grate an apple into my soup. But this is optional. I think it gives it a bit of texture and another layer of sweetness which goes well with the curry flavour.

Check seasoning and adjust to your liking. Add chopped coriander and heat through. I like to serve with naan bread and an extra sprinkling of coriander.




Once you've made your first batch you can then mess around with amounts of curry powder, coriander and seasonings. All my soups start simple and can be added to as you feel fit. It means if one element is missing from your store cupboard you can replace it with something else. I have replaced the squash with sweet potato before, and it worked. The apple is completely optional and I'm sure pear may even work. Mental note to try it next time!

Happy cooking Judith. It has been a delight to get to know you and I hope your time here in Shanghai is as good as mine. Make the best of your time here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SHANGHAI SIGNS

Just a short post today but something I wanted to share with you.

I am still stopped in my tracks sometimes by the signage here in Shanghai. Some are just wrong and make no sense, and some make me laugh. There are always calls from foreigners living here for them to be put right and for the grammar to be corrected. I say get over it and have a laugh. It wouldn't be Shanghai without these signs.



These signs were in my local supermarket. The "rank" sign pointing to the dried fish in a packet! No, not refrigerated, just on a shelf. 

Made me smile and hope it will make you smile too.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Scottish Night in Shanghai

Saturday night saw me co-hosting a tribute dinner to Rabbie Burns, right here in Shanghai. It would be an evening bringing together fellow Scots, far from home, but joined in their  love for one of Scotland's most famous sons. There would be a lot of planning, a lot of hard work but Lesley and I were more than up for the challenge.

     

With my newly acquired laptop and printer I was able to produce menus, programmes and place names for the table. Happy with the way they'd turned out I set about printing song booklets for the evening as I knew the upcoming event would be an evening full of poetry, song and quite probably dance.........  
 I was not to be disappointed.


The dinner was being held in my friend's house, it was more suited to hosting. We would be a party of 14. Arriving I was greeted by the site of a beautifully dressed table in a very welcoming room. The night was going to be a good one. She had done us proud.

Soon people started arriving and the party really got going. Pre dinner drinks relaxed everyone and conversation came easily. Although we didn't all know each other well we all had some connection here in Shanghai, but of course that didn't matter one jot. We Scots are a friendly sociable bunch who know how to throw a good party! 


Of the 14 we were made up of 11 Scots, 1 Irish and 2 people from South of the Border! All were welcome. One Scot by marriage the other a Geordie, so close enough. 

Haggis was smuggled in by one of the guests through Hong Kong, neeps, or turnips as some of you may know them, had arrived in Shanghai only that morning courtesy of my husband who was returning from a trip to UK. We are a resourceful lot.


Soon we were sat at the table and the formal part of the evening began. The Selkirk Grace, Address to  the haggis and then the food arrived. Very traditional. I had made my Cock-a-Leekie Soup, it was followed by the Tatties, Neeps and Haggis and how delicious they were, followed by Steak Pie, Veg & Roast Tatties, Cranachan, Oatcakes and Cheese, a truckle of cheddar I brought back from Scotland, and of course tablet with the coffee. We are always bringing such things in, and although not allowed, we take the risks to bring a little of what we like back to Shanghai. Well fed we sat back to enjoy the evening's entertainment. The rendition of Tam o' Shanter was one of the best I've ever heard, delivered by Alastair, our host. My husband did Toast tae the Lassie's. It brought a lot of laughs and gasps as he almost managed to stay on the side of good taste. It was excellent.



My friend Lesley sang beautifully, I knew she could sing but was amazed at how good she was. Others recited, sang and told stories. As the whisky and wine flowed so did the jokes. Alcohol has the ability to lower ones defences and soon people who had never sang in public were happy to belt out their favourite Scottish ballads. Even a chorus or two of Donald Where's Your Troosers? was sung, and everyone joined in with gusto.


There was no doubt everyone was having a great time and all the planning and hard work had payed off. Everything came together seamlessly, and all fears were allayed. 

I am always amazed, living thousands of miles from home, I can still find myself surrounded by fellow Scots all connected by our passion for our country, by our natural ability to make friends and welcome people into our company, and of course by the love of our own Rabbie Burns.



By 4-30am the party was over. People were making their way home through the streets of Shanghai but with Scotland in their hearts. An evening like this has two things which it leaves with us. Our love of Scotland, but also a sense of how far away we are. Thankfully this type of evening makes us feel closer to what we miss, and remind us that we have friends wherever we go. Likeminded people who can gather together and have a good party.

Life is good. 

We were asked if we will do it again next year. Personally I'll be happy to, but I'll have to check with my friend, although I'm sure there will be a repeat performance. Once word gets out I'm sure it will be the hottest ticket in town.

It will take a few days to completely recover, but well worth it.


Here's tae us,
Wha's like us?
Damn few and they're a' deid.

Robert Burns







Saturday, January 24, 2015

ALONE in SHANGHAI

As I see my hubby off at 9-00am on Saturday morning I see a weekend stretched out in front of me with a lot of time to kill. He'll be gone until next Saturday. Weekdays are never an issue as there are always lots of activities going on, but weekends are a different story.

I start pottering around, tidying up, plumping cushions, straightening magazines, you know how it is. Ayi was in yesterday so nothing major to do. Decide it's time to lose the pyjamas and dress for the day ahead.

Suitably attired to leave the apartment I glance at my watch and realise it is only 10-00am! Still out I go. I pick up some fruit and vegetables, a healthy week of eating on the cards, will see how that pans out. Lol. I pick up some bread, and while doing so I see a delicious looking chocolate croissant, or yang jiao bao, as they say here. Literal translation is sheep's horn bread.  I can understand that. Now on the way back I'm thinking of a lovely cup of coffee and the pastry nestled in my bag. Healthy eating can begin tomorrow.


Yep, just as good as was imagining. Kept the croissant cold and did the French thing, dipping it into the coffee. Delicious. With the papers downloaded I was a happy bunny.

Okay, coffee time over.

While the coffee was brewing I popped some beetroot into the oven. A pickling session would cover part of the day. I put fruit into a bowl. I love when the leaves are still attached to the mandarins, just makes them look so nice. Will be tucking into these all week. Probably need a top up mid way through.



But for now as I pick up a scarf I wore out on Saturday night, I could still smell the smoke from it. Can't believe how bad things smell after a night in a bar, or even restaurant here in Shanghai. They are trying to ban it, in fact, I think it is actually banned, but there seems to be no one obeying the ruling. So I collect a few scarves that need freshening up and gently hand wash them. Yes I do have too much time on my hands. 


Soon they are dry and folded and back into the scarf drawer, yes I did say scarf drawer. everything in it's place. I also have a glove drawer and sock drawer. 


Now feeling very happy with myself I glance over and see that the shoe rack could really do with a tidy. Yes, I do have a long day to fill. A bit of sorting, a few being put aside to be repaired, a couple for the charity store and soon my shoes are all lined up, although not all my shoes are lined up! If you get my drift. Another job well done.


Now to getting the pickling done. A messy hour or so and I have a few jars of pickled beetroot to add the my store. As there is some bread lying around which is past its best I decide to make some breadcrumbs. I do this all the time and keep them in the freezer. It's so easy, no wasting bread and they are always there. Sometimes I add herbs, or grated lemon peel. Give a nice flavour.




It's now 2-00pm! I have accomplished much, the day is still young!
Time to sit down with some cook books and a cup of tea and relax. I get engrossed in the books, finding all sorts of new recipes I want to try. Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with cooking and I really should vary it all up a bit more. Note to self: cook at least one meal every week I've not cooked before. Let's see how that goes in the coming weeks. 

Soon I realise it's beginning to get dark and I need to switch the light on if I'm to carry on reading. Of course I can now go and make supper. Simple chicken with a lemon butter and a green salad. Nothing too taxing. I do love chicken. I think my last meal would be a roast chicken.

I would even use my breadcrumbs.


Simple but delicious. Now an hour or so in the company of my friend the TV. Not such a great friend here in China, but you have to take what you can get. Only a couple of things left now to do before heading to bed.



There not such a bad day after all. Actually enjoyed it. Got lots done, went off to bed feeling quite smug with myself. Accomplished lots. A few chapters of my book and it was time to put today into the past and check it of the list as a happy one.

Now what will I do tomorrow ?????  





Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SHANGLOW DAYS

For people who who have not lived an ex pat life you may well think it consists of days full of coffee mornings, lunches and happy hours. Of days spent pampering ourselves with manicures, massages and shopping. A life where you have someone to drive you around and someone to clean the house when you are out and about enjoying life. A very privileged life too. And I know I shouldn't complain.

Up to a point that is true, I do my fair share of the aforementioned. But life is not always like this. There are days when things go wrong and this makes you feel so far away from all that is familiar to you. Far from family, old friends and a million miles away from truly comprehending what is going on around you. When you have a bad day here, commonly known as "Shanglow" day it can really get to you very quickly. It can be something simple, something when faced with at home you would deal with easily and move on. Here not so much. Here it can produce tears, tantrums and a  completely disproportionate reaction to the problem.

For me, today it was a recurring issue that broke me. Technology! No internet. Here this means feeling totally cut of from life. No emails, no Facebook, no pintrest, no BBC news, no Times to read with my morning coffee. But the real frustration comes with finding my husband's iPad is connected, my phone is intermittently connected but my iPad and computer are refusing to join networks. Of course here I cannot call up a helpline. I'm on my own!

So I take myself off to the market to buy some fruit and vegetables. Perhaps some time preparing something delicious for dinner will make me feel better. However it really doesn't get much better. First I am unable to walk along the pavement due to cars parked there, moving onto the road to walk I am met with tooting horns, and it is with great difficulty I keep my hand firmly in my pockets to prevent gesticulations, which are a waste of time here as no one understands them. Even the usually cheery lady in the market doesn't seem so friendly today. I decide to walk the long way home to try and walk off the negativity I'm feeling today. I encounter the usual chaos which on a normal day does't bother me. Today? Well that's a different story. Realistically I know I'm not giving off the best vibes and probably people are reacting to my emotions.

However, on a more positive note, the sun is shining, the buds are out on the trees and the gardens are looking amazing, before long the pool will be open and summer will be here. And I am meeting with a friend this afternoon. I can unload on her, because she understands days like today, because she too has them, and I'll move on.

It is hard for people to understand how I can feel down here, living the life I lead. I never take for granted or forget how lucky I am, but that doesn't prevent days like this happening. You will never understand the total frustration of not being understood, or being able to understand what is going on. It's not just the language but the culture here which is so different from at home. Spitting, farting and slurping all perfectly acceptable. Saying please and thank you not so much. Pushing, shoving a normal everyday thing for the Chinese. The frustration of not being able to read signs in shops, road signs, notices that get posted on the notice board. So you can see why occasionally it gets to me.

On the plus side. The Chinese are generally very friendly, very generous and we have been made feel very welcome here. I can now understand a bit more of what is being said than I did when I arrived here. I am not suffering from snow, rain, hail or windy weather. I am healthy, not hungry or living in fear.  I am indeed very aware of just how fortunate I am, but please allow me the odd down day. Maybe it just gives me time to recharge my batteries, put on my big girl pants, a bit of lippy and get myself back out there.

Tomorrow is another day. I won't be buying one way ticket home just yet.