What Month Is It?

I’ve been back in sunny Southern California for about two weeks now, loving this weather and absolutely dreading my return to Pittsburgh and the snow. It’s “cooled off” a bit here, down to about 75 everyday, but it was high 80s last week. Feels like summer. I hate snow.

I’ve got a couple recipes for you. It’s been so hot that I’ve been making smoothies almost everyday for lunch. This one has hidden veggies in it, but unlike my Tropical Green Monster it doesn’t have a scary color.

Berry Green Smoothie

Ingredients
1 C frozen mixed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
1/4 – 1/3 C milk, as needed (I used soy but any milk would be fine)
1 Tbsp chia seed
1 Tbsp flax meal
soy protein powder
1 large handful fresh spinach leaves
agave nectar, to taste

Instructions
Blend until smooth and serve.

Then the other day, my mom and I tried out a new recipe for vegetarian chili. It was really delicious but it took a lot of work. It wasn’t difficult but just cutting the vegetables took forever because there was so much. I must say, though, this is a pretty substantial chili. Some of my meat-eating friends seem to think there’s no such thing as vegetarian chili – I think they should try a bowl of this. It’s got some really interesting ingredients – coffee and chocolate – that give it a really unique flavor.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili
Original recipe from Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012

Ingredients
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large bell peppers (1 red, 1 green), chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1/4 tsp adobo seasoning
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
1/2 C brewed coffee
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, crushed
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head cauliflower, grated
1/2 C fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese, onions, corn, etc. for topping

Instructions
1.
 In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, carrots, and salt, stirring frequently for 8 minutes or until carrots are soft.
2. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
3. Stir in chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, chipotle, adobo, tomato paste, and tortillas. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a splash of water if the mixture begins to stick.
4. Add coffee and let simmer 30 seconds until almost completely reduced.
5. Reduce to low heat. Add tomatoes, cocoa powder, beans, and 2 1/2 C water, and let simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Stir in cauliflower and let cook an additional 10 minutes.
7. Dig in!

How do you eat chili? Just in a bowl? My mom puts it over rice, or sometimes we put it on baked potatoes, but my first choice will always be the Frito Pie. How do you make a Frito Pie, you ask?

Just like that. Asian noodle bowl is optional.

Fly Lice

Christmas in Bangkok! By far the least Christmassy Christmas I’ve ever had. I went with one of my friends (hello, I know you’re reading) and her friend from home who was visiting. I didn’t take the same flight as them, so I got to have a fun three hours waiting at the airport by myself, but it was okay in the end. Just like Taipei, Bangkok was mostly temples, shopping, and street food, and I was okay with that.

Our first day, we wanted to go to some of the cool temples near the river. We pretty much got scammed by a tuk-tuk driver into taking a very expensive longboat instead of the public ferry, but as far as scams go, it wasn’t the end of the world. After that though, it was all ferry all the time. Definitely the coolest form of public transportation I’ve ever taken.

First stop: the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. It’s a gigantic statue of Buddha laying down, and it looks even bigger because it’s in a room barely big enough for it. Very impressive. The bottom of Buddha’s feet have a really intricate mother-of-pearl design, and the walls inside the building are painted as a huge, extremely detailed mural. After that, we went to Khao San Road and then Patpong Night Market. So much cheap shopping! Lots of cheesy souvenirs and bad knockoffs, sure, but I managed to find a few decent things. There were also plenty of food carts, so I might as well go into the street food now.

Pad thai pad thai pad thai. I think I had it three or four times, including Christmas dinner. Stir fried noodles with shrimp, egg, peanuts, sprouts, chili, lime, green onions, yum yum yum. Also satay, fresh squeezed juice, Thai tea, scrambled eggs with rice, mango sticky rice, fried bananas, red curry, green curry… We ate so many meals on the street. Pretty much everything I’ve had before, since Thai is tied with Mexican for my favorite cuisine, but obviously it was a lot cooler (and cheaper) eating Thai food in the street in Thailand than at a restaurant here in Los Angeles. What was new to me, though, was coconut pancakes. They’re not like fluffy pancakes, but rather a crunchy shell filled with cream and coconut shavings. We had those our second day, at the floating market.

We booked a day tour since everything we wanted to see that day was at least two hours outside the city. First stop was the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi. Plenty of boats and stalls were selling tourist crap, but I was way more interested in the real stuff. Little old ladies sitting in the water cutting fresh produce or handing bowls of hot noodles to people standing on the side of the canal. Definitely awesome to see. We took a boat through the market and then looped around through other parts of the canal where people actually live.

These houses were gorgeous! Sure, they were all a bit run down, but most were pretty big and almost all of them had tons of potted plants and other decorations out front. It was so beautiful. After that, we hopped back on the bus which took us to lunch.

This meal was really different than I expected. Not at all spicy like Thai food usually is – just really fresh tasting. Tons of bell peppers, onions, tofu, pineapple, cashews, and – my favorite – broccoli. Then we were off to the River Kwai Bridge, and finally, the place I was excited for most: the Tiger Temple.

It’s a conservation center run by monks. Some tigers are born there, but a lot are brought in as cubs after their mothers are killed by poachers. There were so many tigers! You wait in line for a bit, and then get two volunteers assigned to you: one holds your hand and walks you from tiger to tiger, where you sit and rub their adorable tiger bellies for a bit, and another takes pictures for you. Besides that you can walk around the rest of the center on your own. They also have other animals, like boars and deer, and you might run into a monk taking a tiger for a walk. Such an unbelievable experience.

Right near Wat Pho is the Grand Palace, which is half official government buildings, half temple, all tourist attraction. We went on Christmas day. The buildings are really beautiful, completely covered in tile and gold. They have a free tour in English a couple times a day, and we were lucky enough to get there right as one was starting. We got to learn all about what the different statues represent, the types of architecture, the function of each of the government buildings, etc. Afterward we went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It has something like 8,000 stalls, making it the largest in southeast Asia. It’s definitely a local market – souvenirs were actually hard to find amongst all the clothes, dishes, furniture, and food. We went more just to see the market than to do any actual shopping, but I did get something amazing:

Coconut ice cream, served in the coconut it was made from, topped with red beans, sticky rice, and pineapple jelly. Merry Christmas to me.

For our last days we laid on the beach and got tans, and then just walked around a bit. Sometimes my favorite thing to do is just walk around and look at people going about their business. The sidewalks in Bangkok are overly crowded with people cooking different foods, and any alley big enough to accomodate a market is filled with stalls of fresh fruit.

Thailand was amazing. I want to go back. Maybe not Bangkok – after five days, I definitely feel like I got a sense of what the city is about – but somewhere else definitely. Just for the food.

The Final Countdown

My finals are over!! Finally. (Haha bad puns.) Glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore, but it does mean that this semester is actually over. Considering I was supposed to be studying all last week, I did quite a bit. Knocked out a few good bucket list items.

I finally had conveyor belt sushi – something I’ve wanted to do forever, but it’s a little difficult when you’re eating vegetarian. They did have one of those yummy egg sushis though. Basically the way it works is sushi on small plates comes around on a conveyor belt and you take whatever you want. The cost of each plate depends on the color – that purple plate was my one splurge item. Crab and crab roe. Yummy. No, I did not eat all those plates by myself. I’m not that much of a fatty, I was with a friend!

I also took a ferry out to Cheung Chau for a day, one of the smaller islands in Hong Kong. There’s a small neighborhood and a couple beaches and trails. It’s actually so small that there aren’t any cars on the entire island! Everyone just gets around on bikes, even little old ladies. Most of them use training wheels though, which I thought was pretty adorable. Cheung Chau is where they have the bun festival every year, but that isn’t until spring. I don’t actually know much about it except that people climb up this gigantic structure covered in buns. It sounds pretty weird. The buns were delicious though! Just steamed bread with red bean inside, my favorite.

Like most tiny little islands, Cheung Chau also has amazing seafood. We had a gigantic meal of ginger crab, clams with bell peppers in some sort of gravy sauce, steamed shrimp, some kind of fish, and mantis shrimp. Mantis shrimp are also called pissing shrimp, and they’re sort of purplish inside. Really good but not worth all the effort it took to get their shells open.

Whenever I have a really great meal here I’m always shocked by how cheap everything is. All the seafood I could possibly stuff my face with, and so fresh. It came out to less than US$10 per person. Really, the little places with folding tables and plastic chairs are always the best.

On Saturday I went to Ozone, the highest bar in the world. It’s on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton in the ICC building.

Super swanky, super expensive. The view was really nice, but honestly I more just went so I could check it off the list. I had an unbelievably overpriced “dragontini,” which was delicious, and got really sad when I remembered I won’t be able to do any of this when I get back home. I don’t turn 21 until next August, so it’s all pretty miserable.

Sunday was probably my best day ever in Hong Kong. The plan was: wake up early to watch the live stream of the dance show at CMU, go to Tuen Mun where my local friend lives for a nice lunch, study, and then finish up with a free concert. I made it through the dance show (which was AWESOME guys, so proud of you! and so jealous I wasn’t in it this semester!), but then about ten minutes before I was going to leave for Tuen Mun I started feeling really sick. Spent the rest of the day going back and forth between sleeping and throwing up my guts. It was a fun time. I still don’t know what got me so sick, but I woke up on Monday feeling great again.

So that was my week, besides two finals and an essay. The next couple of weeks until I go home are going to be absolutely crazy, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have for blogging. I’m off to Taipei tomorrow, then Bangkok and back to mainland China before I leave Asia for good. Well, not for good, but for now at least. I’ll be back.