How to Eat a Durian

Don’t. Just don’t.

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Why not? Well, reason number one, and possibly you’ve heard of this before, if you’ve even ever heard of a durian before, is the smell.

English needs more words to describe smells. We have so few! Let’s just say that smelling a durian up close and personal is kind of like smelling a flower. It’s a nice fruity mango kind of flower–that’s gone bad. Maybe even mixed with a little onion and a little fish? It’s the kind of smell that was endemic in grocery stores in China, always making you wonder what exactly they kept in the store that had just gone off (Spoiler–it was durians).

But. In spite of the smell, we persevered. This is a favored fruit in all of Asia, and especially popular with Singaporeans, so this was a valuable cultural experience. Aren’t you glad I was experiencing it for you?

The outside of a durian is hard and poky. Very very poky. So poky that the people who cut them up wear gloves. We had a glove-wearing person cut ours up for us.

Actually, Singaporeans love the durian so much they call this building the durian: it’s round and spiky and was apparently supposed to be a microphone. The architect was quite upset they called it a durian because he’d never heard of one!
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But to get back to the edible kind. There is a small amount of edible fruit in each half, and it looks kind of like mango. Not so bad, right? If you can keep from gagging as you approach.

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Those who love durian praise the buttery texture, the smooth melt-in-your-mouth sensation as it slides down your throat.

This was not my experience. Sure, it was kinda buttery…mixed with stringy. Oh, and did I mention the smell?

But to get to what you really want to know–how does it taste?

Jared put a small bite on his spoon. I put a small bite on my spoon. I offered it to JQ like the good mother I am, and he turned his face away in disgust. He was not going to join us in this adventure.

Then we took deep breaths (turning our noses away), stuffed the bite in our mouths, and chewed.

It was significantly less sweet than expected. In fact, what it most closely resembled, in my opinion, is caramelized onions. Caramelized onions with a healthy topping of rotten mango and black pepper. If this sounds appetizing to you, by all means, you may eat up all the durian you wish. Just not in my house.

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There’s a reason they’re not allowed on public transport or in hotel rooms here!

Tianjin….Again

Tianjin again

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what hotel breakfasts are like in China.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but just in case you’ve been wondering, I’ve got answers for you.

First thing? They’re quite a bit different than American style hotel breakfasts. Yeah, they kind of look the same: gleaming chafing dishes, a tray full of bread, a refrigerator with yogurt in it. But there the resemblance ceases.

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Those trays of orange and green?

First of all, for fresh fruit they had watermelon, which, while not too unusual, isn’t exactly standard breakfast fare in the West. On the other side, they had a tray of sliced cucumber–again, not exactly standard.

For main dishes, instead of the ubiquitous breakfast cereal to be found in America, they had fried rice, scrambled egg and tomato, meat-filled dumplings, boiled greens, and fried cucumbers. (Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of that angle of the buffet!)

But the really interesting part was the condiments.

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You see that right–that’s all kinds of different fermented vegetables + soybeans.

I think Americans might just keel over and die if they were expected to eat that for breakfast. Other, than, of course, people like my mother, who cheerfully (mostly) eats sauerkraut every morning for breakfast. I’m pretty sure she skips the kimchi and fermented banana peppers, though.

Anyways, enough food. I’m sure your stomachs are all growling now with that kind of description.

We also saw this weird house in Tianjin (apparently one of the things it’s famous for) made completely out of pottery. It’s called the China House or something.

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Looks a little poky, doesn’t it?

It made me think of fairy tales–can’t you just imagine an evil witch living in who lures children to her with all her fancy baubles on the outside of her house?

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It was busy, too.

Think Hansel and Gretel, but with pretty blue vases instead of food. And I assure you, it looked even more strange in person.

After that, we went to church in this beautiful historic building, which had too many trees in the way to take a good picture of. But I tried.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Apparently every brick was imported from France to make this building–I’m not sure why Chinese bricks wouldn’t have worked just as well, though.

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The interior (slightly crooked, of course)

And, like all western-style things built in China, it was painted a somewhat gaudy combination on the inside, though maybe this one is more attributable to the French. It’s been a while since I’ve studied my architecture, but I seem to remember something about Baroque and pre-Baroque architecture looking something like this in France, only fancier.

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Domes and vaulting.

The blue and yellow did help to keep it light and airy feeling inside.

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The organ!

And, of course, they had a pipe organ. Unfortunately, however, they seemed to have nobody to play the organ, so they settled for an electronic keyboard at the front of the church. It seems to me, though, that if you have a pipe organ in a place like China where there are extremely few, you ought to try to find someone to play it or teach others to play it. Hopefully they will in the future.

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The dome from outside.

And that was our visit to Tianjin–a lovely city, with a breath of refreshing Western-style architecture (yes, I can mix my metaphors so horribly. You try to do it better!).

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.”)

The Return of Tourism

Last weekend we finally traveled some in China. And just in case you want to know–if you’re visiting China as a tourist, Xi’an is a great place to start. It’s a beautiful city–way prettier than Beijing!

We left Saturday afternoon at around 4:00 p.m and took a high speed train that went 300 km an hour. It  was amazing how quickly it got us there–1080 km and 6 hours later, we were in Xi’an.

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The inside of the train

Sadly, however, SOMEONE was stupid and left her Kindle behind. So for 6 hours or so, I had nothing to do but take pictures of the dark windows, which led to (I regret to say it) train window selfies. Yeah, I know. Pretty lame. But what’s a girl to do when she has nothing to read?

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I like to call this one “Girl with a Camera.” Sounds more artistic that way.
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And this one makes me look slightly ethereal and like I’m on fire. . .

Once we got there, we were in for a bit of a problem. It was 10:00 at night, and we had no idea where anything was. I’ll skip all the boring details of how many people we asked for directions and how we had printed out directions to the WRONG hostel that we didn’t have reservations for and so ended up there at 11:00 at night, but yes. We survived.

In the morning, we went to church, which was amazing, and wandered around Xi’an for a little while. We stumbled across this really neat street which we had been meaning to visit anyways–it’s called Muslim Street, because I guess it’s where the Muslims in Xi’an sold their food and stuff–and walked around for about an hour and a half. It sort of turned into a maze by the end and we weren’t sure how to get out!.

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As you can see, there were hordes of people!
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A bread stall

Some of them tried to charge us exorbitant amounts (Jared thought they must be unionized or something), but we made it out of there without losing too much money.

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See that bread in the very back? The man tried to charge us 30 kuai for it! By contrast, the ones in the front were only 5.
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On the right of the picture is the grill they use to grill their meat (usually lamb) on a stick.
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Jared with his favorite thing.

This meat on a stick might just be one of the best reasons to come to China. It’s so flavorful and tasty that you’ll always want to make your meat this way. Or maybe move to China just to get it.

As we walked further along, we kept hearing these strange pounding noises. Looking around, we spotted these men with giant hammers pounding something (we never did quite figure out what it was or why it needed pounding). It looks like some sort of candy, but it was too expensive, so we didn’t try it.

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The giant rope thing is like taffy, I think–the kind you have to pull to get to the right consistency. That kid is clearly not impressed.
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Because a goat’s head makes everything better!
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Does he look Chinese yet?

This hat has a funny story. We were walking down the street and Jared picked it up to try it on (it’s just like the ones that the Chinese policemen wear). He asked the lady how much it was, and she said 80 Yuan. That was too expensive, so we started walking away, and she kept calling numbers after us–50? 40? 30? 25? She was really desperate! We still didn’t buy it, though.

You’re probably about pictured out, so I’ll leave you with a picture of a Chinese person cooking soup. He may need to update his equipment soon, I think.

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Yes, that’s fire.

Have I convinced you to come to Xi’an? If not, stay tuned for more pictures and commentary (though I can’t promise it will be more interesting than this post was.)

7 Things I Love About China

Since I spend so much time on here grousing about not having hot water to wash my dishes in, you all probably think I’m just sitting around bored out of my mind and hating China. Well, that’s not the case. It’s just that dishes provide such fertile ground for writing. All those food scraps decaying….

Ok, that was sorta gross. But you get the point.

I will tear my mind away from my precious dishes and no hot water, and present you with seven things I love about China.

1. The people.

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Every Chinese person I’ve met here is simply lovely. They always have big smiles, warm hearts, and are full of hope for China. If I had to use only one word to describe China, I think I would use the word “hope.” They work so hard in their studies and really try to learn. And they’ve made us feel welcome here even though we’re strangers and don’t speak the language (even complimenting us on our Chinese when we come out with our few broken words).

2. Ease of transportation.

This week, I’ve been helping with the SOPE tests for Renmin University (basically a 3 minute impromptu speech in English that everyone has to give), and one of the topics was public transportation. The Chinese teacher who was grading the speeches with me proceeded to lecture me on the poor public transportation in America. “Think of the foreigners!” she told me. “What if they want to go around and travel around the city while they’re there but they don’t know their way around? With no public transportation, what will they do?”

I told her I agreed with her, but I wasn’t exactly in charge of whether Columbia, Missouri, had a good bus system or not.

However, Beijing DOES have an excellent public transportation system, and it has definitely helped us out as we’ve been getting to know the city.DSC_0210

3. Going to church here. However, I’ve already written a whole blog post about this one, so I won’t repeat myself here.

4. Having a Kindle with access to Kindle Unlimited.

This isn’t something specific to China, but it’s made giving up our books  a lot easier, since we now have an entire library at our fingertips but don’t have to worry about it upsetting the weight regulations of the airlines.

5. Having our own little apartment.

It’s made it so easy to have students over for parties of Thanksgiving and Christmas. And since we had to leave everything else behind when we left America, it’s nice to still have a little space to call our own.

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Jared in his Captain America sweater just because. You can see a teeny bit of our apartment….

 

6. The food.

I don’t know who could come to China and not love the food. Of course, there are some dishes that are pretty so-so, but overall it’s been fantastic. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to sit down to a roast beef dinner again. But for now, I’ll stay content with my noodle stir-fry, Chinese dumplings (jiaozi), and oh-so-juicy lamb kebabs. But since I’m horrible at taking pictures of food (I usually only remember once I’ve eaten half!), you don’t get to salivate over any of it.

7. All the amazing historical sights to see.

China has an amazing history. They were inventing ways to feed their people and grow their population while Europe and the West was still stuck in the Crusades (and fighting a gazillion wars with each other when they weren’t fighting Muslims). The chance to see things that are left from that ancient civilization is amazing. So far, we’ve only seen a few things: the Summer Palace, the Old Summer Palace (which I didn’t get pictures of because I didn’t bring my camera), the Forbidden City, the zoo, the museum. But we’re still planning to see more, so stay tuned!

There. Didn’t you admire my fortitude? I didn’t even mention washing dishes ONCE once I got started.

Linking up at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes.

 

 

 

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 Deadliest Sourdough of Them All

We called it The Smell. A creeping odor, invading corners, pipes, cupboards. Nowhere was safe from it—and where it crept, it stayed. We attempted to banish it, fumigating every hidy-hole we could find. It disappeared long enough for us to let out a sigh of relief—and then returned in force, until finally the odor was almost tangible.

It was all the sourdough’s fault, really. You’ve all heard of Paul Bunyan and his famous sourdough that made the Rocky Mountains. Well, his sourdough had nothin’ on ours—ours was that strong, but with a malignant twist to it. It was bent on taking over the world by every weapon at its disposal. The Smell was just one of them.

Healthy and happy, when my older sister remembered to feed it, the sourdough had been a noble organism. Many were the pancakes, coffee cakes, loaves of bread, and muffins that had been made with its beneficent yeasties and devoured by all of us. Then, it had seemed a helpful creature, willing to please, offering up of itself for the good of mankind.

But the day my 10-year-old brother, Slen, came running in, a shocked look on his face and arms flailing (after we had regretfully lain the sourdough to rest), I began to doubt its kind heart. “Brotherkins,” he said (that was how we always talked to each other), “Brotherkins, there’s a strange smelling mass in the backyard. . .and it’s eating up the flower bed!”

Needless to say, we all went without delay to see—my brothers coming out of the woodwork like names in a Russian novel. There it was, larger than life, causing each flower one by one to sway, creak, and slowly topple into the bubbling mass as its stem was eaten away. It was truly a horrific sight. I figure it must have eaten its way out of the two plastic sacks in which we had encased it and then eaten its way out of the trashcan.

My oldest brother, Theodore, twenty-three, spoke up first. “Friends, nobles, countrymen: lend me your ears!” Theodore is the literary one of the family—he always has his long thin nose in a book.

“Aw, cut out the Shakespeare,” I groaned. “This is a time of crisis here, and we need to act faster than a coon headin’ towards a field of just-ripened sweet corn.”

“Well, I have a plan,” he said.  “There’s a can of gas in the shed, and some matches in the house. If we pour the gas over it and then throw a lit match into the mix, there’s no way that sourdough could survive.”

Yeah, I thought, but can WE survive?  Theodore has a good head on his shoulders, but sometimes he’s a mite impractical. He needs someone close to him with good ol’ fashioned common sense—like yours truly.

So I gave him my (better) plan. “Instead of burning the house down, why don’t we just spray it with some bleach? That’ll disinfect it, get rid of The Smell, and kill whatever rogue organism is in that stuff.”

Everyone liked my plan better, so away we went—me to get the bleach, Theodore to get a shovel to clean up the remains. When we reconvened, the sourdough had eaten up at least half of the flower bed. It was time to act!

My younger brother Snah made his ponderous way to the laundry room. At fifteen, Snah was built like a prize-fighter and had the attitude of a gentle elephant. Right at the moment, however, I wished he’d hurry up. He was movin’ like a river runnin’ up a slope.

He eventually emerged, bleach in hand, and I got busy dousing the rapacious odoriferous insatiable sourdough. (Sorry ‘bout that there, folks—sometimes I get a mite carried away with my words—where was I?) We only had one bottle of bleach, so I had to use it sparingly on the ever-widening growth that had once been our flower bed, but as I poured, The Smell turned from its hideous shade of deathly brown to a light tan color. We all covered our ears and ran, since that there organism was emitting a deathly shriek—and growing even bigger!

“Well, pickle me tink!” I said.

“Would you like some milk to go with it?” asked my little brother Thor helpfully. Thor was only five, but he was nearly the greatest talker of the bunch.

“This is no time for foolery!” I told him fiercely—“If anyone’s going to be making jokes around here, it will be I—The BOSS!”

And while we sat shootin’ the breeze, The Smell had finished off the flowers and was beginning to eat the lawn.

Enter little brother Nat, thirteen years old and nearly as annoying as his namesake the gnat, careening around the lawn with an armful of something and shouting “Alert, alert—full alert!”

But just at that moment he tripped over a protruding paw of the sourdough—and his bagful of whatever it was spilled all over that creeping corpus. And without a further murmur, squeal, or scream, it gave up the ghost.

“Nat,” I said, “You’ve done it this time. You’ve saved us all from The Smell, and you didn’t even mean to.”

“Aw, shucks,” he said. “It was easy. Just put a little salt on something like that and it quietens right down. Learned it in biology the other day about slugs.”

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.

 

 

Fall…and Apples….and a Recipe for Tastiness

It’s fall! We’ve had a few days of beautiful weather with no pollution, lots of golden leaves, and fall fruits. And you’ll be glad to know that even though it’s China, trees still turn yellow and gold and red and purple here. I know you were all worried about that.

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The view from our fourth-story balcony. The tree is a Gingko tree, which is supposed to have amazing fall colors. This one looks a little sad, though.

The Chinese seem to value fall and beauty more than people in other countries. There are always Chinese pulling out their phones to take pictures of a beautiful tree or flower. They love beautiful things.

A still- green Gingko tree.
A still- green Gingko tree.

It’s also apple season around here, and every street vendor has baskets full of different varieties of apples. When it’s apple season, you can’t just let all those beautiful apples go to waste or even be eaten raw. So, although I can’t can anything (mason jars don’t seem to exist here and I don’t have any canning equipment anyways), there’s still a time and place to make applesauce and baked apples and other apple-y good things.

But, since I’d already made all those aforementioned things and still had apples, and since I now have a toaster oven to bake things in, I tried to make apple crisp.

So I sliced up my apples and put a little brown sugar and vanilla salt on them. Chinese brown sugar is extra dark and molasses-ey, so it made them extra good. And no, I didn’t put any cinnamon or nutmeg or allspice in–for one thing, I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy cinnamon for 20 Y for a little bottle, even if that is only around $4.00.

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Don’t they look good?

Then, once my apples were ready, I mixed up a little flour, some butter, some regular sugar, and more vanilla salt (salt is pretty essential). I crumbled it on top (which I didn’t take a picture of since I’m a bad food blogger), and stuck it in my teeny weeny toaster oven. Yes, just one of those plates fits at a time.

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See how yellow my butter is? Fresh from New Zealand!

The good part about having a teeny weeny toaster oven is that things cook in half the time. 20 minutes later, Jared and I were sitting down to yummy, salted-caramel flavored apple crisp. It’s really the best sort of apple crisp you’ll ever have. It tasted just like a caramel apple, except even better.

Jared approves!
Jared approves!
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And he wanted to get a picture of the cook too.