A Canton Christmas


901056549718538I usually order a tall brewed coffee at my neighborhood Starbucks. It’s the cheapest drink on the menu. Today, in honor of the holiday season, I’ve ordered a nutmeg latte. While I wait for my beverage, I hum along with the Muzak. “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” Although it never snows in Guangzhou, I could just as easily be standing in line in downtown Seattle.

Coffee and Christmas have come to China in a big way. My nutmeg latte, incidentally, costs 32 RMB which is about $5.25 at current exchange rates. Make that coffee, Christmas and capitalism. In my neighborhood alone I can choose from a half dozen coffee shops. And Christmas decorations – don’t get me started!

I have a snapshot of workers erecting a Merry Christmas sign above the entry to our local mall. It’s dated October 25th, six days before Halloween and exactly two whole months before Christmas. Of course, Christmas is not a government holiday so there is no time off from work. But that does not seem to impede the commercial possibilities.

For me, Christmas is about traditions – family, friends, food and festivities- and, of course, there is the religious tradition as well. The first four traditions can be found in abundance during Chinese Spring Festival, which falls on January 28th, 2017. Religious tradition can also be found in China, although in lesser amounts.

My first year in China (2004) I attended a Chinese Catholic mass with a colleague on a cold Christmas Eve. We were in Jiangxi Province at the time; in a city that had a rather scarce supply of laowai (foreigners). Our plan was to slip quietly into the back row, listen for a while and then slip out as quietly as we came in. That was our plan.

Our plan changed dramatically, however, when the priest glanced up from his text and noticed two odd strangers sitting in the back. He instantly ordered two chairs be brought down front. You would have thought we were two of the three Magi as we sheepishly walked down the center aisle. The congregation stood up and began to applaud – so much for slipping out quietly!

 

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National Chocolate Day


Ron's Blog

Chocolate Rose Chocolate Rose

The list of U.S. federal holidays seems a rather odd assortment. It appears to be mostly about finding a politically correct excuse for a day off with pay. The list is as follows: New Years Day, Martin Luther King Junior Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The first one and the last two seem to be the only legitimate holidays to my way of thinking.

As a kid, I used to look forward to the start of the “holiday season.” In my mind, the first big holiday was Halloween, followed about a month later by Thanksgiving, and then a month after that was Christmas. It was a glorious stretch of freedom from school, combined with presents, combined with all sorts of sweet things for the tummy. By the time New Year’s Day rolled around we actually looked forward…

View original post 128 more words

Ginger or Mary Ann?


Ron's Blog

Article first published as Politically Correct Gingerbread on Blogcritics.

I had fun doing research for this article. My entire ten minutes was wasted, however, as I’m writing about the hot and spicy root plant called ginger, and not Ginger, the hot and spicy castaway from Gilligan’s Island.

Be that as it may, I did discover I’m somewhat in the minority. It seems Mary Ann consistently outpolls Ginger in which-one-do-you-prefer competitions. In support of Ginger, let me just refer you to this wonderful 1957 recording of Tina Louise singingIt’s Been a Long Time.

Chinese love ginger. I also think some of them may get a perverse pleasure out of tricking me into sucking on a mouthful of it. My first experience was on a bus during a school field trip to the China countryside. Somebody was passing around a bag of ginger candy and WOWEE! Chunks of ginger are not…

View original post 335 more words

Happy Thanksgiving – Don’t Forget the Pie Plant!


Grandma's Rhubarb Pie
Grandma’s Rhubarb Pie

Consider the humble pie-plant. That’s what rhubarb is sometimes called.  Like tomatoes, it belongs to a small group of identity-challenged fruits, I mean vegetables, I mean fruits. Apparently rhubarb got into some legal difficulties in New York back in 1947 and had to go to court to prove its fruitishness.

Rhubarb is a card-carrying member of the genus Rheum in the family Polygonaceae. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water? It’s leaves are toxic and it’s roots are perennial. It’s green-to-reddish stalks, however, are the stuff of childhood memories. At least the stuff of my childhood memories.

My grandpa on my mother’s side was an insurance salesman. But he spent all his free time in his beloved garden. Now when I say garden I mean backyard farm. He was a beekeeper and organic hippie without the beads and long hair. He was cool and didn’t even know it. Nor did I at the time. Rhubarb reminds me of him.

Apparently there is something called the Rhubarb Triangle in Jolly Olde England. If you have nothing better to do, look it up. No ships have been reported missing, however local residents apparently harvest rhubarb stalks by candlelight. Are they Rhubarbarians? Nobody knows for sure.

My sister-in-law compiled a family cookbook a few years ago. On page 47 is a recipe for Sour Cream Rhubarb Pie. The recipe actually came from an old newspaper clipping my mother found. Although it calls for a cup and a half of sugar, it’s not a big deal because the recipe was written back in the days when sugar was good for you.

Ingredients:

2 cups diced rhubarb (more or less)
1 cup sour cream
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 ½ cup sugar

Directions:

Put rhubarb in unbaked pie shell. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over rhubarb. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees and 40 additional minutes at 375 degrees. Pie will begin to set up as it finishes baking.

Sister-in-law Becky adds this note: This easy recipe makes a very rich dessert. I have often used other fruit such as blackberries, raspberries or peaches. It’s especially good when made with the first rhubarb from the garden in early Spring.

Spring is still a long way off, but don’t let that stop you. Rhubarb, with it’s cheerful shades of red and green is also a Christmas fruit. Or vegetable.

A Canton Christmas


 Ho, Ho, Ho!
Ho, Ho, Ho!

I usually order a tall brewed coffee at my neighborhood Starbucks. It’s the cheapest drink on the menu. Today, in honor of the holiday season, I’ve ordered a nutmeg latte. While I wait for my beverage, I hum along with the Muzak. “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” Although it never snows in Guangzhou, I could just as easily be standing in line in downtown Seattle.

Coffee and Christmas have come to China in a big way. My nutmeg latte, incidentally, costs 32 RMB which is about $5.25 at current exchange rates. Make that coffee, Christmas and capitalism. In my neighborhood alone I can choose from a half dozen coffee shops. And Christmas decorations – don’t get me started! I have a snapshot of workers erecting a Merry Christmas sign above the entry to our local mall. It’s dated October 25th, six days before Halloween and exactly two whole months before Christmas. Of course, Christmas is not a government holiday so there is no time off from work. But that does not seem to impede the commercial possibilities.

For me, Christmas is about traditions – family, friends, food and festivities- and, of course, there is the religious tradition as well. The first four traditions can be found in abundance during Chinese Spring Festival, which falls on January 31st, 2014. Religious tradition can also be found in China, although in lesser amounts.

My first year in China (2004) I attended a Chinese Catholic mass with a colleague on a cold Christmas Eve. We were in Jiangxi Province at the time; in a city that had a rather scarce supply of lao wai (foreigners). Our plan was to slip quietly into the back row, listen for a while and then slip out as quietly as we came in. That was our plan.

Our plan changed dramatically, however, when the priest glanced up from his text and noticed two odd strangers sitting in the back. He instantly ordered two chairs be brought down front. You would have thought we were two of the three Magi as we sheepishly walked down the center aisle. The congregation stood up and began to applaud – so much for slipping out quietly!

Christmas or Thanksgiving: Which One Do You Like Best?


This article also appeared on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website:

Is it just me, or are there others out there who rank Thanksgiving at the top of the holiday list? What would your top five look like? Here’s mine:

1.   Thanksgiving
2.   Christmas
3.   Mother’s Day
4.   Chinese New Year
5.   Mid-Autumn Festival

Okay, maybe some explanation is in order. I chose numbers four and five because I get paid vacation with time to wander around China. Number three I chose because, well, because she’s my Mother. And I put Christmas as number two because it seems the thing to do. I actually have a rough time with Christmas, but that is grist for another article.

Thanksgiving is definitely number one, though. It’s short and sweet with good things to eat. And it’s family time without a lot of pressure. Unless you’re the cook. My normal assignment is to bring the relish tray, because my family has tasted  some of my creations. How hard can it be to cut up vegetables?

Speaking of cutting up vegetables, how about a Chinese recipe for leftovers? Good luck finding a turkey if you’re actually in China. They’re scarce as hen’s teeth. Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Chinese LOVE duck. But then they also prefer tofu to cheese.

Anyway, here’s a Turkey Chow Mein Recipe. Pair it with a nice white wine from the Walla Walla Valley where I grew up.

Ingredients

Vegetables: celery, carrots, red onion, garlic, mushrooms, bean sprouts, bell pepper, any other fresh vegetables you have left over and need to get rid of!

Sauce: 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon cornstarch.

Leftover turkey, chow mein noodles, cooking oil.

Directions

Step 1
Wash the vegetables and cut them into fairly uniform, bite-size pieces. Not too big, not too small. Set them aside.

Step 2
Whisk together the sauce ingredients, cornstarch last. Set aside.

Step 3
If you’ve never cooked stir fry before, here’s the secret: Everything is stir-fried separately and then mixed together at the last moment. Okay, the other secret is you need to use good judgment about which ingredients take longer to cook.

Step 4
Put your wok on medium to high heat and add a little oil. If you don’t have a wok, use a large pan. When the oil starts to ripple, toss in your aromatics. That’s your chopped onion and garlic. Start with them because it makes the kitchen smell like you know what you’re doing.

Step 5
Toss in your peppers with the aromatics, stir fry and then set aside. Stir fry the rest of your vegetables in some sort of logical order and set them aside. It’s better to have the vegetables on the slightly crisp side, so taste as you go along. Hold back your bean sprouts for later, though.

Step 6
Wipe out your pan if it is dirty and then add a little more oil. Next, it’s time for your turkey. I hope you cut it into small enough bits. Big chunks won’t do. Heat it up in the oil and then add back in your vegetables.

Step 7
Let the meat and vegetables get friendly, but not mushy. Add in the sprouts and sauce and heat to a boil.

Step 8
Toss in the cooked chow mein noodles, mix it all up and then serve while it’s hot.

Some people like soft noodles, some like those crunchy kind. For soft noodles, cook until al dente. For crispy noodles, don’t stir fry, just serve out of the package. You can lay down a bed of crispy noodles or sprinkle over the top. If you’re having a hard time finding chow mein noodles, you can boil up some Top Ramen noodles and use them.

Chow mein is a great way to use up leftovers. Make small batches until you’re ready to try it out on your family. Other possible ingredients include water chestnuts and almond slivers. Hey, what about fresh cranberries? I wonder…

How To Make A Frozen Mudslide


Frozen Mudslide
Frozen Mudslide

Among my many degrees and accolades… just a minute… I’m looking for it. Nope, that’s my Truck Driving School Certificate. Nope, that’s my Eighth Grade Diploma. Ah… here it is. My Mixologists Certificate.

How to Make a Frozen Mudslide

Is this the wrong time of year to enjoy a frozen drink? I don’t think so! With the holiday season fast approaching, now’s the perfect time to pull out the blender and make a batch of these delicious “adult milkshakes.” Especially if you go to the extra effort of swirling chocolate syrup inside the glass before you serve it. I’ll tell you how.

Step One

You’ll need: Vodka, Kahlua, Irish Cream, Chocolate Syrup, Milk, Ice, Blender, Glasses.

Step Two

Pour milk into the blender; about one cup is a good place to start.

Step Three

Add one shot of vodka and a half shot each of Kahlua and Irish Cream.

Step Four

Add enough ice to make the liquid rise about an inch.

Step Five

Blend until creamy smooth, pour into glasses and enjoy.

Step Six

This is actually Step One if you want to make chocolate swirls in your glass. (I learned this in my bartending days). Lay your glass sideways on a bed of ice and spin it. While the glass is spinning, quickly squirt in chocolate syrup. Voila!

Tips and Warnings

You can substitute ice cream for some of the milk and even add a dash of French Vanilla coffee creamer for extra zing.

This recipe is enough for about one and a half drinks.

Even though it’s smooth, creamy and delicious like a milkshake, remember it packs a punch!