Why I Am Not a Food Blogger

Food. We all eat it every day. At least, I hope we all do. And sometimes, when I’m really stuck in a rut and have absolutely no desire to eat Chinese food again because I simply cannot do more cabbage with eggs, I read food bloggers and salivate over all the delicious American food that I haven’t eaten in months. Roast beef with mashed potatoes? Bring it on, I say! (Or hamburgers, or bean burritos, or anything American that Chinese people don’t eat. It all sounds good.)

So today I’m here to show you how to cook one of my most boring meals: breakfast. This is my way of winnowing down who’s really my true friends–because if you’re still here after this most boring of blog posts, you are dedicated. Breakfast is boring for me because we always have eggs, and while eggs are fine, they get a little old after you have them every single day. But when you don’t want to eat gruel for breakfast (which is what the Chinese eat), you have to eat something. And eggs are acceptably American.

So, though I’m sure you know how to make a simple fried egg, here’s how to make eggs that you can eat every day for breakfast, even when you feel like you’ve become the most boring breakfaster on earth. And why someone would want to write a blog post about how boring their breakfast is beats me. I think I better give up my food blogger career already.

Anyways, to be a good food blogger, you have to take beautiful pictures of food that looks like something someone would want to eat. So here are my essentials: eggs and butter.

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See my lovely clean counter space with all the great natural lighting? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

What? You don’t nosh on eggs-in-the-shell? Especially not eggs-in-the-shell with some ancient honey and random junk in the background? But they’re so pretty and brown, and the butter’s nice and yellow!

Anyways,  before you start the eggs, it’s a good idea to start baking some bread at the same time so you can eat hot rolls with your breakfast, as it takes away the monotony a little. So pull your already-prepared bread dough out of the fridge where it’s been souring for the last couple days and plop it on the pan of your toaster oven. I know you’re super prepared like that.

Oh, and when you’re taking pictures of your food, you want it to be the center of attention. No giant white space in the background, now!

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Lovely little things, ain’t they!

And since of course you’re super prepared and starting breakfast an hour ahead of time (like I always am), you heat up your toaster oven and set the rolls on top to rise a little. And if you’re not super prepared, hockey pucks really aren’t bad. I know from experience.

Anyways, back to your eggs. Once you’re sure you have them (it’s always a good idea to check and see if you’re out), but some butter in a pan and heat it up.

Food photography tip number three: random yellow areas in the whiteness of your tile backsplash just bring out the beautiful yellow color of your eggs. Photoshop some in if you don’t have any.

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Don’t you just want to eat that, right there? 

Once you have your butter deliciously hot and bubbly, add in your eggs. And take a picture of  a giant blurry hand. Because nothing says “I want to eat that NOW” like a picture of a giant hand. Not even yellow caulk.

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Do you know just how hard it is to take a picture of yourself cracking an egg? Let’s just put it in the “impossible” category. So you can look at my blurry hand with a blurry egg.

Then you snuggle your eggs real close together so they don’t feel all lonely-like, and take a picture of them nestling themselves up in their cozy bed of butter.

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Now THAT’S better.

Then, because you were busy taking pictures, turn ’em over on to their little yellow bellies a little late so their yolks are already nearly cooked through. That way you don’t have to feel bad about leaving them too long on the other side because hey, they were already ruined.

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Oh, but I almost forgot. While you cook your eggs, don’t get so busy taking picture that you forget to throw your rolls into your toaster oven to start rising cooking.

Photography pro tip 5 (or is it 4? I lost count somewhere back there): take a blurry picture through your spotless oven door, because cameras only show the dirt worse. That way you might get a little incentive to clean that oven.

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And make sure the angle’s a little crooked. It adds interest to the picture.

Once you’ve finished all your multitasking of frantically rushing back and forth and making sure all the dirt is where it should be, turn off the heat (under the eggs, silly), and put some cheese on top of your eggs.

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Just like that.

Then cover them with your perfectly clean lid that you wash at least twice a day in warm soapy water, and let the residual heat work its magic.

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It’s magic, I tell you!

Just don’t let them sit too long or your carefully curated yolks that you forgot about earlier will be hard and nasty. Ask me how I know.

Anyhow, while your eggs are sitting and waiting and feeling lonely, your rolls probably need to be turned around so they’re not burnt on one side and raw on the other (the joys of cooking in a toaster oven!). So you take them out of the oven. This is another place where a giant hand picture is appropriate. Because it’d be weird to have rolls coming out of the oven on their own.

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Of course you use a hotpad! And make sure your hand looks like a claw in the pictures, too.

And you start the wrestling match, because toaster oven sheets are notoriously sticky.

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Fork vs. Roll. Roll usually wins.

Then, once you get tired of fruitlessly digging under the rolls while simultaneously trying not to burn yourself,  you throw them back in for another 2-3 minutes, until they’re nicely browned on all sides.

Then you dig in to your lovely delicious breakfast of eggs and rolls. On your perfectly clean, curated dining room table.

And to make sure your pictures turn out just stunning, you should add a little color to stand out, like some yellow pineapple. Brown rolls, brown/yellow eggs, yellow pineapple. Not too similar at all!

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I take such delicious looking pictures of food. I’m sure you want to dig in right now!

So there you have it–how to make everyone want to come over and eat your food. Take stunning pictures of it gorgeously arrayed in all its approachable glory, talk it up like it’s something unique that’s never been done before, and make sure you add a contrasting color. And voila–hordes of people just longing to take a bite will magically appear.

Have I convinced you? Or will you now resist any and every dinner invitation given by yours truly? (Jared’s comment: “I’m sure you’ll get lots of people seconding your title.”)

I Love Vacation

I know this sounds crazy, but school is starting soon. (Yeah, don’t mock me, all you US readers. I understand you’re about to do midterms now. Well, China’s DIFFERENT!) I’m going to have to give up my life of leisure applying for jobs and filling out forms that I’m convinced were invented by someone with a diabolical imagination (sequel to the Screwtape letters right there) and going to Chinese class and tutoring in the afternoons and suck it up and actually work. On my four (4!) classes per week, that I’m hoping will have almost no homework to grade. Sounds pretty miserable, doesn’t it? I hope the tears of pity are dripping down your face right now.

It’s pretty bad that I have no idea how much homework these classes will have–and I’m one week away from starting to teach them. I don’t even know the textbook we’re supposed to use yet. But that’s China for you: keep you on the seat of your pants, they do, and only tell you things when you’re getting mildly nervous about what’s going to happen and what you’re going to teach and wondering if-anyone-shows-up-to-your-classroom-what-are-you-going-to-tell-them and will-they-all-think-I’m-a-confused-American-teenager-that-wandered-into-their-classroom-by-mistake. (Last time, a couple of my students said they wondered if I was one of their classmates. Good for inspiring confidence, that! I should figure out this “mature look” better, I guess.)

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You know you’re not very mature when you still take selfies, right?

But by the time class starts, I will know what I’m supposed to teach, and I will have a textbook. They’re being extra kind this semester and giving us our syllabus and information a total of two days before the semester starts. Two whole days.

So excuse me while I make the most of my break here–you can imagine me lying on the beach reading my favorite book or touring around China seeing the Great Wall and everything else.

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Oh yeah, that’s where I’ll be. Where it’s sunny and warm.

Imagine me there, because in reality, I’ll be planning lessons for my one-on-one students this week and filling out more job application forms while my brain begins to scream in protest. I vacation in style.

In Which I Bore You with Mindless Drivel about Dishes

Somehow, this week has been crazy. Jared got sick (for three whole days! poor thing was miserable), we got a “holiday” for New Year’s Day, which really meant that the cruel and unusual method of “let’s see how much of your weekend we can take away from you” was strongly played with makeup classes on Sunday, and then it was back to the usual of procrastinating on doing dishes because SOMEONE was convinced that bringing cookies to her classes was a good idea. Well, it was. But cookie-making also involves dish-making, and dish-making involves dish-doing, and dish-doing involves putting away those dishes, and yeah. I haven’t even gotten past the dish-making part, so I’m inwardly shuddering whenever I walk into my kitchen and see all the remnants of the shallots in the sink along with whatever’s left of the cookies.

So, obviously that means it’s time for a blog post, so all you who are like “just do the dishes as soon as you make them and then you won’t have any problem” can totally say that in your head as you don’t understand why I a) don’t like doing dishes and b) don’t follow the wonderful advice that you just gave me. But there’s just something about making cookies before an 8:00 a.m. class that robs me of the will to dish (what, you don’t think that’s a verb? Don’t know what you’re talking about). And then you get back, and the cookie dough has hardened on the pan. So, of course, you just leave it.

Anyways, I’m starting to run on just like my little brother Seth (sorry Seth), so I’ll stop with the drivel and present you with pictures of a sunrise, courtesy of my 8:00 a.m. class. It’s funny how when the days start getting longer the sunrise starts getting later at the same time. Oh, and yes, the sun rises in China just like it does in America. I think it’s even the same sun!

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It’s not much of a sunrise. . .

 

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But at least I got the camera straight in this one!

Now excuse me while I go heat up some water for my dishes. There’s no time like the present, right?

 

 

How Do You Cook a Turkey in a Toaster Oven? or, Thanksgiving in China

Short answer: You don’t.

Long answer: You boil it instead.

Even longer answer: Don’t buy a turkey in China. They’re too expensive.

Yes, that’s right. For Thanksgiving, we didn’t eat turkey. We had chicken instead. And it was boiled chicken.

Now, before you throw up your hands and gasp in horror at the un-Americanness of our Thanksgiving, we did have all the other trappings. Stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls–we had no worries of starvation.

We did, however, feel slightly (only slightly? make that very) crazy at attempting to have fifteen people over to our small apartment and our table that seats six or so. For lack of a better option, we turned to plundering. The spoils from our neighbor’s apartment included another toaster oven, serving dishes, another table, chairs, and some pots and pans for less crazy cooking. I could feel my Viking heritage coming through strongly! (Disclaimer–all the things we used for Thanksgiving were borrowed WITH consent!)

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Setting up the tables

So while Jared set things up (didn’t he do a nice job?), I baked sweet potatoes and squashes, boiled chickens, made pies, and tried to figure out how to make a second pie when you only have one pie pan. (Our plundering failed to reveal that little detail. )

Note–our tables were in the other room, so all my cooking had to be done on our coffee table. Let’s just say I’d have back problems if I had to do anything on that for more than the two hours before Thanksgiving.

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That, folks, was nearly the extent of my counter space. 

Then Jared was put in charge of making sure the sweet potatoes got thoroughly marshmallowed and were sweet enough.

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Attacking his task with vigor. Don’t faint–he washed his hands first.

So by the time students showed up, they only had to roll out the bread (which they were thrilled by) and help mash the potatoes and put everything on the table. They loved watching the bread bake and puff up, since in China they only ever steam their bread.

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All the food. Wasn’t that a feast?

One thing I didn’t get a picture of was my first ever pecan (actually walnut) pie. It turned out deliciously, for not having any corn syrup or pecans. Everyone loved it.

We did go slightly non-traditional and eat with chopsticks because we had more of those than forks and knives. I think our Chinese friends felt more comfortable with that anyways!

Happy Thanksgiving from China! (I was behind the camera).

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All the people! Apparently two fingers is a Chinese thing?

What did you do for Thanksgiving? Was it as crazy as trying to fit 16 people into a tiny apartment for a feast

The Dangers of Dishes

I own one of the world’s worst superpowers. And by “worst” I don’t mean that it’s ineffectual,  like it only takes care of half the bad guys at a time. No, this superpower is one that doesn’t solve problems–it makes them. Dishes, to be exact.  I’m extremely good at making dirty dishes. Put me in the kitchen with some food to cook,  and I’ll have it covered in dishes before you can say “Don’t forget the baking powder!” I can make more dishes that practically anyone else I know–except for my mother. She has me beaten by a long shot. (Sorry mom, but it probably has something to do with having around 5 times more people in the house to cook for than I do.) It must be something hereditary.

Sadly, this superpower is not accompanied by actually wanting to WASH said dishes, especially when our apartment (still unheated for now) has only cold water and no dishwasher in the kitchen. I’m just as happy not getting my hands frozen and greasy in icy tap water, thank-you-very-much. Add that to our limited (around two square feet–that’s a generous estimate) counter space, and you find me getting very creative with new ways to stack dishes.

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Don’t worry–these are all clean. It’s the best way to dry them, I’ve found.

So it’s probably a good thing for my sanity that I only possess a few dishes to get dirty as it forces me to wash them more than once a week (not that I would ever go that long without doing dishes–I’m far too holy for that. But don’t ask about the laundry.).

Now, before you start hyperventilating and thinking what a sad life my poor husband leads to be married to a woman who keeps their apartment looking like a pigsty (yes, mud and smells and all!), let me say that even I have some standards of living. Our floors are clean, our bed is made, and yes, even the piles of papers get graded eventually and returned to their respective students. Clutter doesn’t exist (unless you count piles of papers).  It’s just, when there are more exciting things to do like play the violin or write blog posts or even catch up on my long-neglected email inbox (if I haven’t written you back, it’s nothing personal, I promise!), the reward for doing my stack of dishes looks low in comparison.

I suppose it’s time to face it–as much as I was warned, when I was younger and going to all sorts of music lessons every week, of the messiness inherent in the musical personality, I am that person. Apparently it’s because musicians are so highly organized in their brains that they don’t need to be organized elsewhere–I always know exactly where everything is, so it’s a waste of time to label it neatly or spend time putting it back, right? Except, as happened twice this week, when something falls out of my purse and gets lost in the couch cushions. Then I tend to worry about whether I’m organized enough or if my brain is falling to pieces. But I digress.

I saw this video on Facebook today and was intensely gratified that science seems to be coming to the same conclusions that I came to long ago: musicians really are wonderful. Especially if they’re me.

I may not clean like I should (instant dish-doing? Yes please!), but I guess I have enough musician-related good points that they should offset my one superpower. What do you think? Should having a well-organized brain make you more or less organized in real life? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice my violin–because I’ve already done the dishes.