Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THREE YEARS in SHANGHAI

Can't believe it was three years ago since I first arrived in Shanghai, and what's even harder to believe is just how quickly the time has gone. It really has gone so fast.

Three years ago next Tuesday I took my first tentative steps into the Waldorf Hotel to join a Brits Abroad Shanghai coffee morning, and this Tuesday I will be walking into the Waldorf as President of Brits Abroad Shanghai. I can't quite believe it, and as on my first coffee morning it is also tentatively I take on this role. Brits have been so good to me I really want to give something back. I hope I can step up to this and still enjoy everything they have to offer.

On that first day I met another "newbie,"  Sandra, and over the next few years we became very good friends, not only ourselves but our husbands too. We enjoyed trying out various restaurants around the city, and the guys became mojito aficionados. Mayas winning out. Sadly they returned to UK just before Christmas and the only fitting farewell was dinner at Majas followed by an overnight stay in the Waldorf taking in the brunch next day. I have to say this is probably my favourite brunch in Shanghai. Expensive, yes, but absolutely worth it, very occasionally.

This is the way of an ex pat life. You no sooner make new friends then you are saying goodbye. Only yesterday I was doing this once more. As always it is sad when people leave but yesterday was a great day to do this. The sun was shining, it was 29c and we ate al fresco. Yes it was still April, just, and this is not the usual weather for this time of the year, but it made for a lovely afternoon spent with friends, eating good food, enjoying a few glasses of something and of course doing what we women do best, chatting. A bittersweet afternoon.

So as people leave new people arrive, new friends in the making. It is a strange life and friendships blossom quickly, not always with people you imagine being friends with, but as we never know how long we will have with these people in our lives we can't afford to hang around. Brits Abroad is a really welcoming and friendly organisation and we try to make everyone feel welcome. Some friendships will last the test of ex pat life, some will flounder, but the people who remain in our lives share a very special bond of having shared the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the amazing fun and adventures we had living in another country with a totally different culture. These friendships are very special.

So after three years what are the ups and downs?
As always the downs are being far from home, from old friends and mostly from being away from family. This is by far the hardest bit about living away from home.

The ups?
 Well who would have guessed that I can now conduct daily life in Mandarin, still a long way to go but getting there.
I can now cross my 8 lanes of traffic without blinking, something I never thought I'd be able to do. Buying a chicken with head and feet still attached presents no problem, and I know the feet make excellent stock.
Tanks of live frogs, eels, turtles etc don't even warrant a second glance now.
 Chopsticks no longer slow down my eating.
I can take a photograph of a dress in a designer store, most recently Hermes, and have a copy made at the fabric market.

The Chinese have been very friendly and helpful. Even the people working in the markets and shops have been kind. I am now recognised in these places and there are times when I feel at home here. It hasn't been nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be. There are challenges, yes, but that's what keeps it interesting.

As this will be "home" for a few more years I am happy it's been a good experience and I look forward to enjoying more of this amazing, strange and wonderful city. One day it will be my farewell lunch I'm enjoying and then I will be happy to be going home, to the familiar, to old friends but most of all back with my family.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

DIM SUM from my CELTIC KITCHEN

I have been enjoying getting back into the kitchen again after having flu. Although I've had no one to actually cook for as my husband is still out of town, it hasn't deterred me from playing around. And of course, I still have to eat, so I've been cooking to feed myself. Feels good to have my appetite back.

I have to admit rather than cooking what I fancy eating I have been eating what I fancy cooking. Does that make sense? I'm sure you all know what I mean. Sometimes I see a recipe and think I must try that and it lies around and somehow never makes it to the oven or pot never mind to the plate.

So yesterday afternoon I had planned to make some dumplings. There are many kinds of dumplings here in Shanghai, all with different names, different fillings and different ways of cooking. Some are steamed, some boiled and the pot stickers start of frying before water is added. This gives them a nice crispy bottom.

Mine were basic. They are called SHUI JIAO, which translates as cooked in water. Filling was chopped prawn, 150g  and minced pork 50g, a very popular filling here. With some garlic chives, S&P, oyster sauce 1tbs and rice wine 1tbs. I cheated and bought the wrappers. Getting the shape is tricky but I think the more I made the better I was getting. A couple let in water but most were fine.


I was quite happy with them and served them with soy sauce and Chinese black vinegar for dipping. This is the traditional dipping sauces here in Shanghai.


As I had some pork left over I decided to experiment with the shape. I added grated ginger, chives, 5 spice and soy sauce. They tasted ok but something else was needed. I need to work in those ones. But they were edible just lacked a bit of flavour.


As I was preparing them it made me think again about how similar food is wherever you are. I had been making samosas earlier in the week to take to a friend who was doing a curry night.


A samosa is just another filling enclosed in a pastry, as is a sausage roll, a Cornish pastie, an empanada, ravioli and I am sure you can think of others. It always amazes me the similarities in foods from different corners of the world.

Fried rice, byriani, nasi goreng, risotto, rice and beans and good old Scottish kedgeree. All ways of using up ingredients in the fridge and using rice to make the leftovers go further. Of course nowadays these dishes are much more sophisticated than their origins, and I'm sure much tastier too. But basically they all started out as a way of using up leftovers. Something I like to experiment with. from time to time.  Sometimes with great results and sometimes not so great! But you never know until you try.


Monday, March 9, 2015

A SHANGHAI BIRTHDAY

Friday was my birthday. Hubby was out of town, I had just recovered from flu, and my birthday lunch with friends had to be cancelled as my flu was now being passed around, and several girlfriends were now suffering. Not a great way to spend a birthday, alone!

Then another friend came to my rescue. An invite to join her and her husband for dinner at Shanghai Town and Country Club where her husband is GM. This is a new club, just opening as I write this. It is an amazing venue. Spas, pools, restaurants, hotel, apartments, retail and the most amazing children's play equipment. I was blown away with this "community" within Shanghai. 


Our evening started in the bar with a rather welcome G&T and a selection of canap├ęs which were on offer. It would have been rude not to try one of each! Right?




As we sat and relaxed and enjoyed the lovely surroundings I thought how much my husband would have enjoyed this evening. Hopefully on his return we do this again, and again!

Soon we were sitting in a private dining room and choosing what we would like to eat. A difficult choice as there was quite a lot of dishes I was being tempted by. 

Duck, always a favourite of mine, this time Cantonese Style seemed like a good choice. We were not wrong. It was delicious and tender and very tasty. Just melted in your mouth.


One thing I do enjoy about eating in China is that food is always served "family style". So all the dishes are laid out on the table and you can pick and choose from a selection of dishes.

To me this makes so much more sense than everyone ordering one dish. How many times do you order something, but when it arrives you wish you had ordered something you see someone else getting? This way everyone gets a chance to taste all the dishes.

A sweet and sour pork, fried rice, shrimp and vegetable dishes were soon joining the duck on the table. 


Sweet and sour pork was the right side of sweet. Sometimes I find it can be a bit too sweet, and not enough sour. As you can see this dish, unlike in UK, doesn't come covered in a gloopy red sauce. It will be difficult to go back and eat Chinese food in UK. It is just so different, and not in a good way. I will have to find a good Chinese, or cook it myself. Not that I'm putting my cooking skills at this level. I'll just have to do my best. Maybe I could put in a request for a few lessons from the chef.


Just when I thought it was all over dessert arrived. I had wondered why I hadn't been asked for any input, and then I saw it and realised why. 


Lemon tart and tiramisu. Whats not to love?

So what could have been a lonely day for me turned out to be a good one. A delicious dinner with two lovely, relatively new friends, spent doing what I love to do. Yes, you've guessed it, eating good food with good friends. Difficult to beat. Having my husband with me would have made it absolutely perfect. However, I am sure the pressure was off as he had left me in safe and capable hands.

It was a lovely evening and I was so happy not to have spent it alone. 
A big thank you to two lovely people.












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.