Tuesday, March 29, 2011

love in beijing

Brian and I celebrated our 2nd year anniversary this year in Beijing, at the end of January. It's not every year that you can say that! (well, at least I hope it's not)

We didn't get to celebrate on the actual day due to some last-minute business trips and long-lasting colds, but a few weeks later we went out adventuring. On the northeast side of the Forbidden City is a dramatically long park called Beihai. I've been wanting to go for a while and so brian and I bundled up and went strolling for an afternoon and finished off with dinner at The Couryard (not recommended).

the royal quarters, complete with intricate asian gardens
telephone booths...aka big orange helmets

Sandra asked us to send her a picture of ourselves....and so we ordered a professional photo shoot. just kidding. but this is real. 

On our first anniversary Brian and I decided that we would buy a piece of art on our annual trip, wherever we were. Last year, in Savannah, we paid "hugs" to a few SCAD students for some fun magnets for our fridge. My favorite is the comical blue bird in a yellow frame. This year, we paid nothing. As we wandered through the park we came across a man painting water pictures on the sidewalk with a big foam brush. Beautiful things...elegant, sweeping chinese woman with curves in all the right places and intricate chinese characters. Then he decided to paint us. Apparently he doesn't do many foreigners who have smile lines and deep faces, because we turned decidedly older than we are. But, all in good fun and we're going to have to print out them out and frame them when we get home...otherwise they don't count.

While not complex or expensive, Brian and I really had a good time just exploring and laughing together...major reasons why we enjoy being married. Ahhh...glad he brings humor to our relationship, because I definitely don't have the talent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dumpling Party!

In many ways China has not been what I thought it was going to be. Food-wise, I had visions of:

1. making my own desserts
2. becoming accomplished at traditional chinese dishes
3. learning the intricacies of flavors, spices, and vegetables used here

However, none of those things have occurred. Because:

1. it's hard to practice being a pastry chef without a Kitchen-Aid or large mixing bowl
2. we eat chinese food all the time...if i'm going to cook I want to eat something that reminds me of home
3. food is so inexpensive that it's much easier to eat out and taste test others' expertise

I just keep telling myself that I'll learn when we get back to states, when i'm actually missing asian food.


So. All that was a pretty long prelude to this post, which is the one big attempt that I've made to learn the art of dumpling making. We hosted a bunch of friends at the apartment, armed only with a "secret recipe" from an older man that Tracy and I met at the grocery store and the experiences of my wonderful friends. It was delicious...and really not that hard. I wouldn't recommend making them all yourself, but if you've got a few of you, it's possible to make plenty. As typical with our Chambers Family Dinners, the evening evolved into unanticipated fun. Inspired by two empty picture frames in our apartment, the American guys in our group initiated the idea of 'collective community art.' Every person had to add something to each piece. A lesson in social psychology, the individual responsibility for the success of the art was lowered and people freely participated, from adding two dots of color to bold moves shaping the tone of the piece. Lots of fun and you can see the results below. It's never boring at our place, that's for sure.

Top Ten of Dumpling Making:

1. Heat vegetable oil on the stove with full peppercorns, until the flavor is infused. Then remove the pepper.
2. Add oil to ground pork, salt (add a good amount since the dumpling skin doesn't have much flavor), ground pepper, green onion.
3. Mix. The mixture should be moist. If not enough, add more oil.
4. We cheated (slightly) and purchased the dumpling skins from a store down the street. I was assured that I could purchase the same ones in the asian area of most american cities. Sold.
5. Put a small amount of filling into each skin. Then use water along the edges to seal. (Unlike my family's polish pierogis, there's no stretching of the dough. It wouldn't withstand the cooking methods)
6. Then the cooking. We tested out three different methods just for fun.
7. First method: boiling. In a large pot of water, boil the dumplings until the meat inside is cooked, several minutes. (not our favorite)
8. Second method: steaming. We used a rice cooker and layered the dumplings in the basket. They probably took 5 minutes per batch. We liked this method and soon gave up boiling in favor of steaming. Easier too.
9. Third method: frying/steaming. By far the crowd favorite. You heat oil in a frying pan and layer the dumplings on top. Fry for a few minutes until the bottoms are slightly crispy and then pour a thin layer of water into the pan. Cover and steam until the water is gone and the meat is cooked, a few minutes longer.
10. Delicious. To save uncooked dumplings for later, place in single layers between sheets of wax paper. Don't combine. I know, I'm a professional. I will definitely be recreating these in the states, so look for CFD to return with an asian flair!

Xiaoying, aka Tracy: dumpling maker extraordinaire!
oil, onion, pork, salt, pepper
into the skins!
we got creative with the dumpling shapes, and ended
up with about 10 different kinds
the ladies: Marina, Jenny, myself, Tracy. Rebekah and Ashton arrived later
community art!

The First.

The First and Last are now in places of honor in the formerly empty frames

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Annual Dinner

I told you all that I had a great post backlog, but I didn't tell you how far back it goes. The week after we returned to Beijing in January, my company hosted their Annual Dinner for the entire Beijing office. When I first heard about this I believed it was going to be a large banquet where the company announced promotions, enjoyed some wine, and generally celebrated working together. And all of that was true.

What I didn't anticipate was a full-fledged themed production replete with costumes, music, dance performances, and after-party club-like atmosphere. I couldn't help but laughingly gaze in wonder at the shenanigans and ponder how this culture freely and joyfully expresses themselves, blending the lines between professional and personal. You know, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

my girls: marina, jiang dan, jinglan, connie, jenny

rabbits, Jack Sparrow, and ballerinas

moo and i sat and ate for most of it

the lovely flamenco ladies...who were on-stage after my colleague Jay
danced in response to a flutist's melody

the highly-popular dance routine, replica of a famous music video.
they actually did it twice.

I know I won't be in Beijing for the next Annual Dinner, but I would love to join the party!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Snow and Skiing in Beijing

Beijing has a few ski resorts in the surrounding mountains, and a few weekends ago a couple of colleagues and I headed out to Nanshan for a day o' snow fun.

I've only skiied once in my life before this. That was high school when my sister Kari and friend Alison Godwin and I joined the Aletheia Youth Group on their trip to WinterPlace, West Virginia.

It was tons of fun and I fell alot. So I'm not highly qualified to rate the Nanshan resort, but i imagine that there are much better places out there. However, it WAS a perfect day to be outside, the morning after one of the 3 snow days we had this year. Not too cold, about 7 runs to play on, and a great group of friends to enjoy it with. Plus, i discovered that I love skiing. The rush, the exhilaration....perfect Saturday.

snowy saturday by our home in sihui
Add caption
ski gear is not very attractive. but i tried.

Marina, Moo, myself, and some random guy

learning how to stand: me, stephen, and moo

moo the skiing thai

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Tha tha tha thailand!

These big sight-seeing posts can be vastly intimidating. The sights, people, and entire experience was so wonderful and full that you feel like you have to do it justice...and yet feel inadequate to do so. Therefore, I usually put it off for long enough that I reach the point of just posting something, however brief....which works out wonderfully for everyone since the blog is short, sweet, and full of photos. So. Ahem. Without further ado.....


Over Chinese New Year the first week in February, Brian, our fellow traveler friend Greg, and I made a last minute decision to head to thailand over the break. After blazing through ideas of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bali, we finally settled on what had been the trip that I really really really wanted to take. God is so sweet to me. Due to the last minute nature (we bought our tickets the day before we left) and the holiday, we were very limited in accommodations. We didn't have the time to fully research the best islands, itineraries, yada yada and honestly just went where we could find a place to stay. And it couldn't have turned out better.

Stop 1: Bangkok

We spent a day and a half in Bangkok, a great day and a half. We got to have dinner with our good friend Swati from EDSA Fort Lauderdale who's now living and working there. We also took one of the best tours i've ever been on, a bicycle tour through the city....every part of it. We saw high end living, slums, parks, took a boat ride, a 7-11 on every corner, watched Thai boxing, ate pad thai for lunch, and sang "hellooo!" and "sawatdee ka!" to everyone we passed, frequently giving high fives as we rode by. Thai people are wonderful. They have the biggest smiles and freely bestow them on you. It's as if they see you and simply rejoice in the fact of your creation and of your being present in that moment. You can't help but smile back and be happy. (and side note, brian and i have a lot of great photos of the two of us since greg was there and is an excellent photographer! thanks, friend)


sawadtee ka!

greg and the lovely swati

Bangkok = food-lover's delight. Food vendors everywhere, working in shifts, lined up on every single street. Instead of seeing the touristy sights we wandered around the Sukhumvit area and tried as many food vendors as we could. yum.
who needs to see the Grand Palace when you can do Tour de Food Vendors?

Stop 2: Koh Jum

From Bangkok we flew to Krabi and then were transported to our quaint wood bungalows on very untouristy Koh Jum. What a great island! If you want to get away from the tourists and really get to know the locals, this is the place. But be prepared for unpolished. We were picked up at the airport by a family member of the people who owned the bungalows. It's not for the lovers of cushy travel. From pickup truck to sketchy dock to long-tail boat to a small yamaha motorbike that the boys had to push up the hill, to small hike to another long-tail. It was awesome. If you want to try the Thai Islands near Krabi and Phuket, i highly recommend Jungle Hill Bungalows and Old Lamp Bungalows. We sat overlooking the water and ate dinner and breakfast, soaking in the sea air, views, and wonderful fresh food. Then woke up in the sunrise to monkeys jumping in and out of the trees and roofs, celebrating the day with us.

long tail boats
on the very small motorbike. the boys weren't pushing yet.

Jungle Hill Bungalows!

Stop 3: Koh Phi Phi

It's well-known and touristy for a reason. Koh Phi Phi Ley is where they filmed The Beach and the whole area is incredible. Brilliant water, staggering cliffs, and gorgeous beaches. We spent several days here soaking up some sun, swimming, and scuba diving. It was wonderful, that's all I can say. Oh! When we were scuba diving we saw a very poisonous black and white snake attack and fight a moray eel to the death! That part was cool.

pina coladas and beach go together
watermelon juice: perfection

wonderful trip

I would go back to Thailand in a heartbeat. The heady combination of amazing sights, delightful people, and wonderful food is unforgettable.