Wednesday, 27 April 2011

going green: lettuce pear salad smoothie

lettuce pear salad smoothie: green, but not too green.

Green smoothies. The concept just doesn't sit completely comfortably with me. It conjures up the traumatic days of my childhood, the days when my parents were in the fervent throes of the wheatgrass fad. They grew their own wheatgrass with diligence, harvested them with enthusiasm and every so often I will have a cup of freshly blended wheatgrass juice cheerily slotted into my hands. Bless them, my parents want only the best for my health. But that thin swampy-looking liquid that smelt and tasted like freshly mowed lawn... well, it just had zero appeal for me.

But I had an idea the other day, where I thought perhaps - just perhaps - I could introduce a little bit of green in my smoothies. Not dark green. Not even medium green. But just a little pale green - we are, after all, talking baby steps here - in the form of lettuce. I thought that could be alright. And I'm glad to report that it was... better than alright, actually. So it's not super green, but I've added vegetables to my smoothie - and enjoyed it! A small but worthy achievement, that.

pear salad smoothie for one

1 very ripe and soft large pear, chopped
2 cos lettuce leaves, torn in pieces
1/4 cup unsweetened natural or greek yoghurt
4 almonds, dry toasted in a pan
4 mint leaves
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
4 ice cubes

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

So imagine a light and healthy salad with fresh pears and lettuce, strewn through with mint leaves and toasted almonds, then drizzled with an orange, yoghurt and honey dressing. Then slightly shift your paradigm, and imagine that again, but in smoothie form. Are you feelin' it? Oh yeah, I'm feelin' it.

light and refreshing, fruity and nutty and just a little bit lettucey.

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Sunday, 24 April 2011

easy vegan chocolate pancakes

vegan chocolate pancakes.

I like Easter, because it means I get a few days off work. It means I get to sleep in. And it means that, when I finally wake up, I have all day to do whatever I feel like. Such as making these vegan chocolate pancakes, to celebrate all the aforementioned things I like about Easter.

I know I probably should've made something to go with the pancakes. However, I was having one of those lazy mornings... okay, fine, fine, every morning is a lazy morning in my household. So anyway, I had them just as they were, simple and plain with no embellishments. If I make these again, though, I think I'll pair them with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. That will go down a treat - now why did I not come up with this basic yet brilliant idea earlier? Still, there's always next time...

vegan chocolate pancakes (serves 1 - 2)

1/2 cup self-raising flour (Or 1/2 cup plain flour + 3/4 teaspoon baking powder)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (more if you like 'em rich)
1 tablespoon raw sugar (more if you like 'em sweet)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup coconut milk

- Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, create a well in the middle then add in the coconut milk and stir till combined. Do not overmix. Let it stand for a few minutes.
- Heat a little oil in a frying pan over medium heat. (If using a non-stick pan, the oil may be omitted.)
- Pour approximately 3 tablespoons batter (just under 1/4 cup) into the pan for each pancake, and cook until bubbles form on the surface, then flip over and cook for another minute or so.
- Serve immediately, with your favourite toppings.

these vegan chocolate pancakes are light and moist in texture, but rich in cocoa flavour.

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Thursday, 21 April 2011

shanghai: moreish modern metropolis

For most of our time in China, we made a point of indulging in mostly traditional local cuisine, with only the odd deviation here and there. In Shanghai, however, we gave in to a more eclectic mix of morsels. Perhaps we needed a bit of a breather after a straight two weeks of Chinese food, fascinatingly varied as they were. Or perhaps we were lulled by the irresistibly cosmopolitan, international vibe of Shanghai. Either way, we just succumbed... with pleasure.

The first thing I had in Shanghai was a Portuguese egg tart. I couldn't have asked for a better way to start my day. Each glorious bite saw the soft, ethereal custard disintegrating joyously in my mouth.

egg tart.

Hours later, after a leisurely session of window shopping, we wandered into a posh supermarket deli and grabbed some Japanese takeaway for lunch. I opted for sour plum onigiri and salmon sushi rolls.

omusubi (aka onigiri) and sushi.

Our funds had been running low but we still had some Australian dollars which we exchanged at the bank for Chinese Renminbi. The next day, we felt so rich that we each got a fancy dessert at Haagen Dazs. This was actually our lunch. Oh yeah.

I'm not a big tiramisu fan, but the coffee ice cream in Simon's tiramisu dessert was lovely.

haagen dazs tiramisu dessert.

This was my Swiss-roll-inspired dessert. Thick crepes wrapped around strawberry ice cream, served with a tuile biscuit and small dollops of raspberry and mango ice cream.

haagen dazs swiss dessert.

After a day out sightseeing and admiring the night view from what is currently the tallest observation deck in the world at Shanghai World Financial Center, we popped by Din Tai Fung on the third level of the building for a filling banquet dinner. It included their famous xiaolongbao, of course. These gorgeous little pork dumplings were exquisitely made - you could spy the soupy interior through their translucent skins. To eat, lift carefully, bite a tiny hole and suck in the savoury broth before devouring the rest of the dumpling with liberal doses of black vinegar and fresh ginger.

xiaolongbao at din tai fung, swfc.

No matter which city we were in, we never seemed to have trouble finding a good breakfast takeaway spot. In Shanghai, our favourite one was a shop/stall selling a variety of buns.

This xianroubao - basically a type of pork bun - was like a big, doughy, greasy version of xiaolongbao. It wasn't easy to eat this without making a mess! One big bite reveals the meatball-ish stuffing, and then before you know it, rivulets of oil are trickling down your wrist. But oh, it was delicious. We giggled at how unhealthy it was, and continued cramming it into our mouths.

xianroubao: pork bun, shanghainese style. watch out for the oil spill!

Much healthier were the vegetable buns, such as this one which had shredded Chinese radish in it. Peppery. Tasty.

chinese radish bun.

I was happy to see how popular tea eggs were in Shanghai. Even convenience stores would often have a pot bubbling away. Many places, such as this roadside stall, would sell an egg for one yuan each.

tea eggs.

We tried doughnuts from a couple of international chains. These offerings were from an Indonesian chain called J.Co Donuts & Coffee. Simon couldn't resist the one called Avocado Dicaprio, if only because of its awesome name. I played it safe and went for a creamy Snow White.

doughnuts...

I can't remember which chain these doughnuts were from. It may have been from Dunkin' Donuts.

and more doughnuts.

For our last night in Shanghai, we decided to really live it up and went to the upmarket and fashionable Sinan Mansions of the French Concession district in search of dinner. We settled for some Chinese-influenced Peruvian cuisine at Chicha Lounge. It was very good - I particularly loved the tangy, refreshing ceviche.

ceviche at chicha lounge.

The seven-course set meal at Chicha Lounge stuffed us silly, but I had my heart set on visiting the Alchemist Cocktail Kitchen just next door, known for their fancy utilisation of molecular gastronomy in sophisticated cocktails and bar food. I soldiered on with my loyal compatriot towards the promise of sinfully delicious beverages, and we were not disappointed. I was in alcoholic heaven with my Pimm's Spider - cucumber and absinthe ice cream served with a flask of Pimm's No. 1 and fruit beer.

pimm's spider at alchemist cocktail kitchen.

On our last day, we checked out by noon but with an evening flight, we still had several hours to kill. As always, eating was a fabulous way to pass the time. I had seen these little skewers around at street stalls and I finally gave them a go. They were quite tasty.

meaty mini skewers.

We'd heard about Yang's fried dumplings even before we touched down on Shanghai, but I didn't hold out much hope for locating them. The fried dumplings (shengjianbao) are, again, not too unlike xiaolongbao, but heavier and with crunchy pan-fried bottoms. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon them completely by accident while exploring a shopping mall. Sloshed in chilli vinegar, these broth-spurting shengjianbao were wonderfully scrumptious. Mm-mmm! Come to mama, you serendipitous little darlings.

the well-known pan-fried dumplings/buns (shengjianbao or shengjian mantou) from xiaoyang shengjian.

Simon, still hungry, decided to move on to a Taiwanese-style hot dog, da chang bao xiao chang, which literally means "big sausage wrapped around small sausage". To elaborate further, it was basically a pork sausage encased in a sticky rice sausage-shaped bun.

taiwanese-style da chang bao xiao chang.

As for me... I was still basking in the afterglow of the shengjianbao and all I wanted was a light drink to tingle my senses. This sweet and sour calamansi juice was just the ticket.

calamansi drink.

Finally, reluctantly, our time was up. We got on to the high-speed Maglev, and bid our farewells to Shanghai. We'll be back, China. We'll be back...

maglev train in shanghai.

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Saturday, 16 April 2011

guilin, yangshuo, longsheng: a scenic journey

I had a full, fun-filled week in Beijing, and whilst towards the end it was no longer as new and exciting as it was initially, I was still sad to say goodbye. But say goodbye we must, and we packed our bags and headed to our next destination - Guilin!

Upon checking in to our hotel, Simon and I went out for a walk to get a feel for the city. The food scene in Guilin was not quite as vibrant as it was in Beijing, but it was still very fresh and stimulating with its own charm.

These steamed osmanthus cakes sold by a man by the roadside were one of the first things that caught my eye, and it was the very first thing that I bought and ate. Light and delicate with pockets of osmanthus jam and just a hint of sweetness, this may be slightly bland for some, but it pleased my senses - a lovely introduction to Guilin.

steamed osmanthus cakes.

That night, we had dinner at a popular chain restaurant in Guilin, A-Gan, or Forrest Gump restaurant in English. Trying to rein ourselves in after pigging out on mostly heavy, albeit delicious food in Beijing, we changed gears into a gentler cuisine here, ordering some vegetable dishes and a perfectly steamed fresh river fish accompanied by bowls of rice.

steamed river fish.

After dinner we checked out the Guilin night market, where there were stalls selling clothing, toys and knick-knacks as well as food and beverage. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures, but I can tell you I had some lovely sweet, sour and spicy pickled fruit on skewers, and also a coconut beverage which tasted like watered-down coconut milk. I also noted that tropical fruit seems to be quite abundant here - to my surprise, I saw quite a few stalls selling jackfruit and rambutan.

night market in guilin.

The next day we hopped off to Yangshuo. My favourite part of the journey was the relaxing two-hour cruise on a bamboo boat.

relaxing on a bamboo boat cruise.

We got to Yangshuo and then took a taxi to our inn, which was in a rural village, Chaolong, about a 10-minute ride away. It was very quiet and peaceful here. For the first time, we didn't have to say "no thanks!" to every person trying to sell us something, which was a nice change. Plus, they had the most adorable sausage dog in the premises.

sausage dog guards his territory. do not underestimate sausage dog.

As much as we appreciated the serenity, we soon itched for a little more action, and started walking to Yangshuo town. As we trudged along, a man on a motorcycle stopped and asked us if we would like a ride for 8 yuan. Faced with the conundrum of heeding caution versus walking for the next hour or so, I have to confess, no doubt to the horror of my parents reading this, that yes, we took him up on the offer. Oh, and yes. It was absolute joy.

After the invigorating ride, the soft breeze gently whipping us on the way, we headed to West Street, the buzzing hub of the town. It wasn't long before night fell and things really came alive.

west street at night.

We saw quite a few vendors on the street selling this tofu dish cooked teppanyaki-style with spicy local condiments, and decided we would make this our entree for the night. It was hot, tender and full of flavour.

spicy teppanyaki tofu.

One of the signature foods in Yangshuo is beer fish - fish braised with beer, tomatoes, spring onions and assorted seasonings. We tried this at a restaurant and, while not remarkable, we found it to be a pleasant, homely dish.

beer fish.

The next day we went the down-to-earth route and had a glorious day of cycling through picture-perfect yellow rape flower fields and majestic karst mountains.

my photos don't do the scenery here justice.

As the clock ticked past noon, we kept our eyes peeled for potential lunchtime spots. A sign caught my eye and we parked our bikes and wandered in.

The restaurant turned out to be a welcoming little open-air shack just adjacent to the living quarters of the lady in charge. She had a cute little boy toddler and the most adorable, playful little girl, who kept us entertained while we waited for our food to arrive. She is a gem. I think I want to be her fairy godmother.

adorable little girl getting herself some water so that she could wash her face.

But anyway, this was what we had for lunch. Stir-fried bamboo shoots, vinegared potato strings, and fried rice with eggs from the local free-range chickens. Simple but satisfying.

a healthy home-cooked meal.

That night, we went to watch the Impression Liusanjie light show. Set on the waters of Yangshuo with karst mountains in the background and a cast of hundreds, this was quite a scintillating sight.

impression liusanjie light show.

Our final day in Yangshuo started out shaky - plans fell through, and I got sulky. But gradually, our luck turned and my mood bounced back on cue. After a thrilling evening watching cormorant birds doing their fishing, we had a delicious dinner at Music East West Cafe. They do a mean beer duck - Simon and I were instantly converted.

beer duck.

We only ordered this pickled cabbage because we felt like something healthy and refreshing, and because it was one of the cheapest items that fit the bill. But it was tangy and appetizing, better than what we expected. In Simon's words - "I never thought I'd find myself enjoying pickled cabbage!"

pickled cabbage.

We continued walking around the area after dinner and saw this woman twirling cotton candy. A very bubbly girl was there with her boyfriend, cheering the woman on with an amazing enthusiasm, and after getting her massive cloud of cotton candy, she even held it out to Simon and invited him to pluck off some to sample. Swayed by her infectious energy, we, too, put in an order, and though the strawberry flavour we got was almost imperceptible, we still had good fun eating it. I felt like a child again!

the cotton candy woman.

The morning after we woke up very early and took a trip to Longsheng for the Longji rice terraces at Ping An village.

longji rice terraces at pingan village.

Unfortunately, I fell sick here, and during the first day I couldn't keep anything down, though I was eventually able to drink some hot tea with honey. Simon was gorgeous throughout the whole disaster, taking care of me and comforting me. (Thanks babe!) I managed to take a short walk the next day, but throughout our stay here the entire village was shrouded in major fog, obliterating the scenery, so it seemed I wasn't missing much anyway. I ended up spending quite a bit of time ensconced in bed, watching rather addictive matchmaking shows and translating them for Simon's benefit.

Regrettably, we found most of the food in this village to be quite tasteless. To be fair, though, neither of us had much of an appetite, especially with my illness, so there were lots of dishes that could've been interesting that we didn't try - such as wild sparrows! Also, there are definitely people out there raving about the rustic cuisine here, so it could just be the limited and uninformed choices we made that were our downfall.

bamboo rice.

Upon returning to Guilin, I was still not feeling a hundred percent, and it was miserably rainy. I hardly ate anything the first night. The next day, it was still rainy, so Simon and I spent most of the morning browsing shopping centres and, more importantly, an awesome afternoon at the games arcade. Yes, we could've done more sightseeing, but we just couldn't be bothered. So we had a blast playing games!

Then later, our friendly young Chinese hotel reception guy, Victor, offered to take us to his favourite Guilin rice noodle shop for dinner. They give you the portion of noodles and the accompaniments (various forms of meat, egg, beancurd skin etc) you want, and then you help yourself to the condiments and the soup stock. While my appetite had not yet completely returned, it was a decent meal with a bit of a kick and we had fun hanging out with Victor.

the famous guilin rice noodles.

So, getting sick on holiday and encountering bad weather may be a downer - but I think we did alright in the end!

Next stop, Shanghai!

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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

beijing: street snacks and beyond

Hello everyone! After a 3-week-long trip in China spanning Beijing, Guilin and Shanghai, Simon and I have returned to Melbourne safe and sound. I took over 1500 photos whilst on holiday, and whittling them down for this blog was quite a task - there is so much I want to share with all of you.

Now without much further ado, I present our first stop: Beijing.

I wish I had the time to try all the delicious-looking food I saw in Beijing. Sigh.

I loved the dazzling array of street food in Beijing. Stalls and vendors are dotted liberally across the city, and every so often we would stumble upon a market or a food street.

One of the most popular snacks sold in Beijing is tanghulu - candied fruits on a stick, not unlike toffee apples. Chinese hawthorn is the traditional fruit used in this candy, but I also saw plenty made with strawberries, pineapple and kiwi.

bing tanghulu.

Not as ubiquitous is the dying art of candy blowing and dough shaping, but I did come across two or three artists doing their thing. And yes, I couldn't resist. I bought myself a candy dog.

a candy blowing artist and his wares.

There was a place with great takeaway options a short walk away from our hotel and for the first several days this was our spot for breakfast on the go. We loved their mini vegetable buns.

mini vegetable buns.

On our first day out, Simon saw some people munching on these pizza-like pancake snacks (diaozhabing) in the Xidan area and decided he had to try one. Fresh from the oven, lightly swiped with a sweet, savoury sauce and sprinkled with spring onions and sesame seeds, these simple Chinese pizzas were light, crispy and utterly delicious.

tujia brand diaozhabing.

Wangfujing and its famous snack street was on our list of places to check out, and during our week in Beijing, we went there twice. At night, this was a bustling hub of activity, packed with both locals and foreigners.

wangfujing snack street.

Here, you might opt for spiders, scorpions, starfish, seahorses and other strange creepy crawlies. Were they gimmicks or true delicacies? I never saw anyone munching on one of those, so call me unadventurous, but I gave it a miss.

are you up for some creepy crawlies?

Instead, we went with some beautifully seasoned lamb skewers. Now this was a good choice!

grilled lamb skewers.

We also liked these thin, crispy meat-filled pancake-dumpling things.

fried thin dumplings.

When in Beijing, having Peking duck is a must. I knew I probably wouldn't get around to trying all the best restaurants serving this dish, so I decided early on that the Dadong chain would be my top pick. I can say I was very, very satisfied with my choice - the Peking duck served here is the most refined I've ever had. One could not say the same about my assembling skills, however...

peking duck from dadong.

Lamb tripe (baodu) is also big in Beijing so I had to try it. This plate came with a bowl of thick dipping sauce. I couldn't quite identify the flavours, but it matched quite well with the chewy tripe. Having said that, I didn't particularly like nor dislike this. I would say the one I had wasn't really my thing, but I'd seen lamb tripe prepared in other ways and I would be happy to give it another go should I visit Beijing again.

lamb tripe (baodu).

Being the huge city it is, you can quite easily find a wide selection of Chinese food from various regions in Beijing. Sichuan food seemed to be quite popular here. Quite a few shops and roadside stalls would sell squid, tofu and vegetables sizzled in an oily and exhilaratingly spicy chilli concoction.

sizzling hot!

We also had a really scrumptious Sichuan-style hot and sour fish soup with preserved vegetables in a restaurant.

we drank this soup by the spoonful.

We got somewhat lost one day and wandered into a rather drab superstore where locals do their shopping. There would be a floor with stalls devoted to socks and underwear, a floor just for toys, and so on. This didn't really interest us, but we did walk around a little and stumbled upon a food court with very cheap food. At this point we still haven't had a taste of the dumplings (jiaozi) in Beijing, so here we jumped at the opportunity. Simply dipped in a bit of vinegar and chilli, these were absolutely moreish.

some classic steamed dumplings (jiaozi) in a bamboo basket.

On one cold night, we got this warm and toasty adzuki bean mousse from a hip little dessert bar, sprinkled with peanuts and strewn with grass jelly and tapioca pearls.

a thick, comforting dessert - just the thing for a cold night in beijing.

During our last two or three days in Beijing, we adopted another place near our hotel as our takeaway breakfast spot. Duck burger to go? Yes please.

this duck burger was a little soggy from being reheated in the microwave, but it was still rather scrumptious.

And - that's it for now, but there's more to come. Stay tuned!

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