Sunday, March 31, 2013

A YEAR ON, the STORY so FAR

A year ago today my husband left for work and I was left alone for the first time in what was to be my new home for the coming years. It felt strange. It almost felt like I was on holiday, especially as I looked out I was seeing a beautiful blue swimming pool. However, a reality came over me as I realised this was to be my life. I may look out over the pool but I also had to get over the holiday feeling and start living this new life.


So as I ventured outside the apartment the temptation to drop white pebbles was high in my mind. I wasn't sure I'd find my way back to the apartment never mind what might happen when I left the complex. But on I went. Soon all worries of getting home vanished as I had to concentrate all my energies on crossing the road. I would worry about getting home later. As I was attempting to cross 10 lanes, just to get to my local coffee shop, I was bewildered by all the noise, all the chaos and the fact that although the green man was clearly visible traffic was still coming in all directions, motorcycles and bikes were even heading right towards me. Safely tucked into a crowd of locals I made it across.

One year on, I barely hear the horns beeping, and no longer jump out of my skin every time one beeps, in fact I barely react. I swerve in and out of the traffic, around buses u-turning and cars double u-turning without a second thought. Well most of the time anyway!


On the way back I decide to try and buy some fruit and veg from the local wet market. Here there was a total assault on all my senses. Noisy, very, but it was the unfamiliar smells, not all pleasant, the sight of live frogs and turtles in tanks, fish I had never seen, and veg I didn't know what I needed to do with it to make it edible. Fortunately I am not at all squeamish and  managed to get around the market with no problems. With no Chinese and the stall holders having no English there was a bit of pointing and smiling going on. But once again I was successful and even came home with a few free samples.
One year on the man at the fruit and veg stall is helping me with my Chinese, I know nearly all the fruit and veg now, in return I help him with the English words. Win, win. He also gets me things I ask for, but keeps getting them, this is the reason I have jars of pickled beetroot to last me for a year! I don't like not to buy it when he has gone to the trouble of tracking it down. Hoping it will go out of season soon. He also gives me tips on how to cook some of these unusual veg. I now enjoy my trips to the wet market.


The first week I arrived and found I could navigate my way around I went to a coffee morning arranged by Brits Abroad. Here I met Sandra. It was a good day. Sandra and her husband Melvyn have become very good friends, and we have had lots of good nights with them. Later in the year I met Leslie, a fellow Scot, very soon we were introduced to her husband Alasdair and again we had found more good friends to enjoy our time in Shanghai with. Moira and Alastair also found their way into our lives, again fellow Scots. We have been so lucky to find such great friends here. I have a good network of wonderful women who make my stay here so easy.


So life here is good. Our local just happens to be the highest bar in the world, cocktails don't come cheap, but on the plus side our local restaurant is fantastic. On friday night 11 of us ate there for 1400rmb, so about £140 including drinks. Not bad. For the first time I booked the table in Chinese, so it was a great step forward. My language skills are improving, getting taxis, ordering food and drink, buying clothes and shoes all within my means! This is all thanks to YoYo my language teacher. She never tires of my never ending requests for questions out with the programme. She is always smiling and so very patient. In return I do my homework and try so hard to make her proud of me.



So a big thank you to everyone out there who patiently listens to my attempts at Chinese and encourages me. From the staff at the coffee shop, my maid, my driver, yes I am spoiled, my dry cleaner and my husband's colleagues who have helped make the journey a smooth one. I cannot thank them enough. We now enjoy lots of fun nights out with them. Jack, my driver has been especially kind. Making sure I'm safe, getting me to where I need to be, opening the car door, which I have to say takes a bit of getting used to, for waiting for me with an umbrella to get me to the car dry and for carrying my shopping to the lift. He is the best. I am wondering how I can arrange for him to go back with me when the time comes! 



So the first year has been good. Lots of new experiences, mostly good. I have mastered chopsticks, I realise I don't mind eating jelly fish, I do mind eating sea cucumber. I love sushi, especially sea urchin, however I do not like congee, a type of porridge made with rice. I can eat prawns including the shells, but still prefer shell off, and will never be able to spit out shells and bones onto the table!  But I am giving it all my best shot, apart from the spitting that is! However I will never, ever put stinky tofu in my mouth. I cannot even bear the smell of it. On the other side a salted duck egg is not so bad.



On the negative side I miss my family and friends, Skype helps, but it's not the same as hugs and kisses from Daisy and Archie. This week I go home for what will be my 4th visit in the year, so not so bad. I am looking forward to all those hugs, lots to catch up on.

 I also want to say thanks to all the people at home, family and friends who always welcome me back, to those who make the trips to visit us wherever we are in the world and for keeping in touch with news form home. It makes it all so much easier. Thanks.

So now lets see what another year in Shanghai can offer.








Friday, March 22, 2013

HUMMUS

Hummus is something which features regularly in our fridge. It's the ideal snack to pull out, and if there is some pita bread around you have an instant nibble. We often enjoy it while dinner is in the oven, something to take the edge off while you wait to eat.


Why do I like it so much? Quite simply it is so simple and quick to make. My husband can call to say he is bringing someone home and I can have it ready by the time they walk through the door. Just leaving time to open a bottle and get the glasses out of the cupboard. Makes me look like a devoted wife every time!

All it calls for is a tin of chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, sesame paste, olive oil and seasoning. Quite simply it is all tipped into the processor and hey presto there you have it. It can be as smooth or chunky as you wish. If you don't like the sesame paste you can add pesto or a couple of pieces of peppers taken from a jar. A bit of chilli, or cumin can spice it up a bit.

A couple of weeks ago my husband announced, as he was reading the latest review from a food writer, that the best hummus should be made with dried, soaked chickpeas and that they should be skinned after cooking! Oh right I thought I must remember that, not!

However a few weeks later while I was making some hummus, this time I was organised and the peas had been soaking overnight. Yes, sometimes I do get myself organised and use the dried pea. As I boiled them I noticed they were slipping out of their skins. Then as I drained them a few more started to lose their skins. Okay I thought to myself, let's just put this theory to the test. After a quick shake in the strainer which facilitated a few more separating, I set to work. I really had just to separate the two things, the skins and the pea. It wasn't difficult but it was boring and time consuming. Eventually I had completed the task and I had a bowl of each.


So into the blender with everything a quick blitz, a check for seasoning and I was done. It had taken me way longer than usual, now to see if it was worth it. I have to say the finished result was excellent. It produced a lovely creamy texture, lighter than usual. Would I be doing this every time? Answer is no. Will I do it again ? Possibly. And if I ever have a Giles Coren or A.A Gill  popping in for drinks then I will go that extra mile to please. LOL. But give it a try even if it's only once, just to see the results.





Monday, March 11, 2013

CELEBRATING in SHANGHAI

Last week was my birthday, or birthweek as it turned out! It coincided with Shanghai restaurant week, hence the over indulgence. I love birthdays, not always the number involved, but it is a great time to celebrate with no guilt feelings.

So what is restaurant week? It happens twice a year when restaurants in the city all do a 248rmb, around £25 a head menu. Lots of high end, ie: very expensive places take part, giving you the opportunity to test them out. It is difficult to secure bookings, but luckily I have a few friend who managed between them to make sure my birthday was very special.
First night we went to Kafer. This is a modern German restaurant sitting on the Huangpu river. The views across to the Bund were amazing, the staff were excellent and the food matched both of them.


A starter of Foie Gras Brulee sparked my imagination and was a must. It did not disappoint. A delicious  piece of Foie Gras topped with spun sugar arrived. It was so good. As was the seafood stew, and dessert of Brie de Meaux with honey and shaved truffle. When my husband commented that his apple mash was delicious an extra side was brought. A nice touch.This was not what we had expected of a "Cheap Deal"It will certainly now be on our special restaurant list.


The following night saw us in Flair. This has the highest outdoor terrace in Shanghai. Wow, views to die for. Felt as if I could have reached out and touched The Pearl Tower.


Here we ate sushi/tapas selection. Everything tasted good. I liked the fact that they serve small plate, tapas style, but will keep them coming as long as you order. A very dry martini helped wash everything down nicely. It was served in a lounge bar, on nice comfy sofas. I was so happy. It was just my husband and myself tonight. This was not one of the restaurants participating in the offer, but as this was the actual date of my birthday, we had to celebrate. This was an ideal place to do it. They do offer a set price menu, including drinks all the year round.


Next night there was a hiatus in the celebrations. A quiet supper of poached eggs on toast, eaten from a tray watching TV. Bliss. We weren't exactly in pj's and slippers but relaxed at home. A light supper was the order of the day as we still had a couple of night in front of us.

This was the night I was really looking forward to. Jason Atherton, a British chef, has recently opened here in Shanghai and I have been waiting to try it out. Table NO.1 has been getting great reviews. Could it live up to them?


This is a stylish hip restaurant, decorated with lots of concrete and steel. Lots of iconic pieces of furniture are dotted round. I really loved the decor.
We were a party of six and were shown to a private room. With the large glass doors we didn't feel at all cut off from the main dining room, in fact we felt a bit special. 
We all ordered from a tempting array of dishes and they all proved successful. I started with a grits and  shredded duck, topped with poached egg and shavings of truffle. Mmm! Sea bass for mains was perfectly cooked and the piece de resistance was the cookies and cream dessert. A great fun end to what had been a great night. Food, wine and company first class. What more can you ask for.


A trip back across the river on the ferry made a wonderful end to a wonderful night.

Last night of celebrations saw us heading with 2 good friends to The Grill Room. A restaurant in the Jumeirah Hotel. 
This was probably the least favourite of the week. Food was good, not excellent, but company fantastic so it didn't matter quite as much. Service was also slow and had to repeatedly ask for wine. Our starters were served before the wine arrived.
As it is a grill room famous for it's steaks that was the choice of three of us. But I am not really a steak eater so I ordered the cod. It was cooked well and I enjoyed it. Steaks for some reason has been flattened out, why? There is no need to do this to a good steak. Everything was eaten and deemed average. Desserts too not what we expected. So not a disaster but below our expectations.
But as I said we were with great company so the night out was not at all spoiled.

A fantastic birthday week, and a big thanks to all who thought of me and included us in their discovery of new places for us to eat in Shanghai.

This week? Well salads and water. lol. Well worth it though. I so enjoyed the experience. 

Thankfully birthdays come once a year, however restaurant week happens twice a year. think I should get into training for next round in October.








Sunday, March 3, 2013

SHANGHAI SEASONS

Everything in Shanghai has a season. At the moment it is the strawberry season. Yes, I know it seems strange to have an abundance of strawberries in the markets at this time of year. I always think of strawberries as a summer treat, but of course now in UK they can be eaten all the year round. Not a necessarily good thing. I find they can often be tasteless, not the delicious sweet strawberries I remember as a child.


Here they are large and so sweet, "tian" as they say here. I have to say I have been buying a lot of them. Partly because I know that in a few weeks time they will disappear from the market and it will be January next year before I see them again.
Sadly strawberries don't freeze so well, so next best thing I cooked them down with a bit of sugar, then sieved out all the seeds and froze as a puree to pour over ice cream or over anything you fancy really. So there will always be a hint of summer fruit in the freezer. 

I also decided to make jam.
Another way to prolong the delicious flavour. I am a strawberry person, my husband prefers raspberries, but alas have never seen a fresh raspberry on sale here. 
So with equal amounts of strawberry to sugar, 1 kilo this time, and the juice of half a lemon I set to 
work. It is such an easy thing to make.
Put all the ingredients int a large pan and slowly dissolve the sugar. When it is dissolved bring to the boil and boil until temp reaches 240 degrees. Then is should be just right. Add to sterilised jars, seal and cool. That is all there is to it.


So I can now enjoy my jam on my toast. Although haven given away some I really must get another couple of batches made before they disappear.

My mouth is watering seeing the pictures. Think I'll go and pop a piece of toast into the toaster as soon as I've finished this blog.

Here is another delicious strawberry treat. Recipe can be found here http://thecelticcook.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=strawberry+sponge


So have fun with strawberries whenever they are in season, wherever you are.