My Favorite Grocery Store

Trader Joe’s, hands down. At least for awesome vegetarian options. They don’t always have everything I want for baking, but they never let me down for dinner.

A little while ago I picked up a package of TJ’s Soy Chorizo to try. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with it, and then I found this amazing website, Cooking with Trader Joe’s. I’ve seen Trader Joe’s cookbooks before, but as a vegetarian I found most of the recipes useless to me. But a website, where you can search for recipes with specific TJ’s products? This is the greatest thing on the internet, my friends. Besides this gif I made of myself morphing into Beyonce for my computational photography class.

This recipe is super easy. Like, 10 min prep time, 15 min cook time, eat leftovers for days easy. And it calls for no spices. What?! WHAT?! I know. Because the soyrizo is just that delicious enough on its own.

Soyrizo Chili
Vegan. Serves 3-4. Adapted from Cook TJ.

Ingredients
half package Trader Joe’s soy chorizo
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 can corn, drained
14oz canned diced tomatoes
1/4 red onion, diced
~1/3 C carrots, diced
olive oil

Instructions
1.
In a medium saucepan, saute onions and carrots in olive oil until softened.
2. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 min.
4. Serve hot, topped with cheese, cilantro, avocado, sour cream, etc.

Look at how chunky that chili is! Just how I like it. I wish I had thought ahead and bought Frito’s to make Frito Pie!

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Snack Attack

I’m a big snacker. I’m always snacking between meals, which is actually really good for you – as long as you snack on healthy things. Especially for college students, I think it’s really easy to get into a habit of munching on potato chips and Goldfish all day. Obviously those things are fine to eat occasionally, but I never buy them because I know I’ll end up eating too much of them. I like to think I have a pretty healthy set of snacks, so I wanted to write a quick post about what I eat.

  • Raw nuts, particularly almonds and cashews. Nuts are packed with protein, which is great for vegetarians like me, and essential fatty acids. I really like to grab a small handful of almonds to eat as a post-workout snack.
  • Granny smith apples. Any apples, really, but granny smith is my favorite kind – they’re tart and crisp and just taste fresh. I like to toss apple slices with a little bit of lemon juice and a dash of cinnamon; it tastes like apple pie!
  • Kakimochi, aka Hawaiian rice crackers. Not exactly the healthiest, but I have so much from my recent trip to Hawaii that they just need to be eaten up. In moderation, of course.
  • Baby carrots and hummus, especially the Mediterranean Hummus from Trader Joe’s.
  • Frozen grapes. They’re really great if you’re craving something sweet – it’s like a popsicle only much healthier and bite-sized.
  • Roasted or grilled chickpeas are a great way for me to get extra protein. Toss some chickpeas with a little olive oil and spices, and either roast in the oven for 30 min or throw on the stove for about 15 min. They’re addictive! As for spices, I like to use a Hawaiian curry seasoning my grandma gave me, but you can try curry powder, cumin, or even cinnamon.

If you ever want to know more about what you’re eating, I like to look at this site for nutrition info. It has way more information than you’d ever really need to know about any food you can imagine, which is really great if you’re using raw ingredients which don’t usually come with a nutrition label.

What about you guys? What do you snack on? Let me know in the comments – I’m always looking for more ideas!

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.

Scorpions Taste Like Bacon

Today was the last day of my Chinese class. For whatever reason, it ends three weeks before all the rest of my classes, so now I have five day weekends. For the oral portion of my final, I had to choose a topic and talk for two minutes – I decided to talk about my trip to Beijing! Here’s my script, in case you’re curious:

上个星期我去了北京旅行。我的朋友都不会说汉语,所以我跟北京人说了很多普通话。我们在北京玩儿得非常好!我们参观了前门,天安门,故宫,天坛,还有 颐和园 。颐和园的风景最漂亮。那儿有一个很大的湖,可以坐船。我们在金山岭长城走了四个多小时。走完以后,我们太累了!我们也去了王府井小吃街。那个地方有很多好吃的菜。我吃了冰糖葫芦,羊肉串儿,煎饼果子,还有麻团儿。这些东西都很好吃!还有,我吃蝎子了,吃得坏!我很害怕!

Of course, now I have to tell you that same story but in English, but I really don’t know where to begin. I had an amazing five days in Beijing. I was with a couple Americans and a ton of Danes, and I was the only one who knows (well, sort of knows) Chinese, so naturally I got quite a bit of practice in! Sure, I was speaking in broken sentences the whole time, but it was great to talk to real people outside of a classroom.

Our hostel was right by 前门 Qianmen, so the first day we mostly walked around there. Qianmen means “front gate,” meaning that was the southernmost gate on the wall that used to surround Beijing. A ton of places in the city end in 门 “men” because they used to be gates!

In addition to the actual gate, Qianmen has shopping (regular and market-style) and tons of food.

My first meal in Beijing! The best thing about being in restaurants was speaking Chinese to the waiter/waitress. I can’t tell you how many times I asked 您有没有英文菜单?Do you have an English menu? First thing I noticed right of the bat was that restaurants serve a lot more vegetables than the ones in Hong Kong. The one on the right was my food – chicken with peanuts, cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, and onions. I miss veggies! The little cakes in the center are fried pumpkin with a bit of red bean inside.

Beijing street food is generally amazing, but especially in Qianmen. Everywhere you turn there’s a little counter selling all sorts of cakes, buns, fried tofu, hot dogs, and corn on the cob. One of my favorite things was 冰糖葫芦 bingtanghulu, skewers of candied haw berries. They have just haws, haws covered in sesame seeds, or haws cut in half with orange slices in the middle, and even skewers of candied strawberries, grapes, pineapple, or kiwi. I like the plain haws the best, but you have to look for ones with cuts down the middle – that means they’ve taken out the seeds, which can be pretty painful if you bite down on one accidentally. It’s a bit more expensive when you get it that way, but even then it’s only about 8元 max. The ones with seeds are a cheap as 1元.

On the second day, we got up bright and early, left the hostel around 6am for 金山岭长城, the Great Wall at Jinshanling. It’s a couple hours northeast of the city, but I’d say it’s definitely worthwhile to make the trek all the way out there rather than going to the 八达岭 Badaling section which is much closer. There’s nothing I hate more than pictures with people in them, and once you’re all the way out there it’s pretty easy to get some gorgeous shots of the wall without any tourists, whereas Badaling is super crowded. That also means it isn’t as well restored in some places, but that can be good, too. We walked for around four hours; I didn’t realize it would be so steep in some places!

It was the perfect day for the Wall. Pretty cold in the morning, but once we got walking we warmed up quite a bit, and it was the least hazy of all the days we were there. You really could see on forever, mountains behind mountains behind mountains.

After a long day, we finally made it back to the city and went to 鬼街 Guijie, Ghost Street, for dinner, near 东直门 Dongzhimen. It’s a couple blocks of all restaurants, and at night people will set up little tables where they try to sell you overpriced souvenir crap.

We were in need of some delicious 烤鸭 roast duck, so we got some of that as well as something called 杂粮包 zaliangbao. I’m not sure if it has a real English name, but Google Translate tells me that means “cereal package.” So I’ll just stick with zaliangbao.

It’s little bowls of steamed bread, with veggies and meat that you put inside! I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this before. Such an interesting change from the usual noodles and rice.

Friday we headed first to 天安门 Tian’anmen Square and 故宫 The Forbidden City, both of which were walking distance from the hostel. I couldn’t believe how crowded these places were. There were tons of tour groups – 20 or so little old Chinese ladies all wearing the same bright orange baseball cap, following some guy with a big flag and a megaphone. In the Forbidden City, you can look inside the buildings but you can’t go into most of them, and wherever there was an open spot to look people were pushing and shoving! After awhile, I just decided it wasn’t even worth it to fight my way through. The buildings themselves are already gorgeous, not to mention the gardens, so who really cares whether or not you get to see the Emperor’s favorite concubine’s dressing room?

After that, we made our way over to 西单 Xidan for some 火锅 hotpot! I had a recommendation for a place called 海底捞 Haidilao, and it was soooo delicious, and very inexpensive. They have a few locations, and apparently they’re pretty popular – you should have seen the size of the waiting area.

Then we went to 天坛 Temple of Heaven. We got there after the actual temple was closed, but it’s a huge park, so it was still nice to walk around. There were so many trees! That’s one thing Hong Kong could definitely use more of. We also did a bit of market shopping.

Finally, the thing I had been waiting for: 王府井小吃街 Wangfujing Snack Street, a little alley off of 王府井大街 Wangfujing Street that sells tons of crazy street food. There was some normal food, of course, but I was most interested in the crazy When-In-China type food. They really do eat anything and everything in China, and in Wangfujing you can get it all, usually on a stick.

From top to bottom, left to right, that’s pidgeon; sea urchin; squid tentacles; scorpions, starfish, and seahorses; lizards and more seahorses; quail eggs; 羊肉串儿 yangrou chaur (lamb kebabs); mini lobsters (who knew they came that small?). I kept pretty tame with my choices: a corn on the cob, lamb, squid, and some chicken dumplings. I did, however, do something a little crazy. I ate 蝎子 xiezi. Scorpion. A big, huge, deep-fried black one.

Gonna be honest, I screamed a little, but who wouldn’t? It really did taste like bacon though. Disgusting bacon, but bacon nonetheless. No amount of peer pressure could get me anywhere near the grasshoppers or centipedes though. Nuh uh, no way. The scorpion was immediately washed down with some delicious haw berries.

On Saturday we headed northwest of the city toward 圆明园 Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace) and 颐和园 the Summer Palace. Yuanmingyuan was the Summer Palace for the Qing dynasty emperors until it was burned down during the Second Opium War in 1860. That’s where the newer Summer Palace comes in.

Three-quarters of the park is a huge manmade lake. Really, you see this thing and you’re just blown away. Definitely the best scenery of the trip (which I said in my Chinese final! 颐和园的风景最漂亮!)

Then we made our way back to the city, stopped by the 雍和宫 Yonghegong Lama Temple, and then 798 艺术区 Art District, basically the hipster-central of Beijing. Tons of interesting art galleries, cute little boutiques, and small coffee shops. We also went to the Olympic Park, where the games were in 2008; the stadiums were beautifully lit at night. Finally, we ended the night with cocktails at 什刹海酒吧 Shichahai Bar Street in 后海 Houhai. We found a place called the Lotus Blue that had a live reggae band! In the middle of Beijing, of all places.

Finally, it was our last day in Beijing. I really wanted to make it to the Ming Tombs, but that’s a bit outside the city and I was afraid we wouldn’t make it back in time for our flight. Instead we stopped by 孔庙 Temple of Confucius and did a bit of last minute shopping at the clothing market in 三里屯 Sanlitun. And got some more street food, of course.

The one on the top left is called 麻团儿 matuar in Beijing and other parts of northern China, but I usually call it 煎堆 jiandui. It’s fried glutinous rice flour covered in sesame seeds, usually with lotus paste inside. My favorite is when it has red bean, so I was a little disappointed to bite into the lotus paste, but I kept eating and found that there was red bean INSIDE the lotus paste! The top right is a crunchy, eggy pastry. Bottom left is a chewy cake-type thing with red beans, and the bottom right is a flakey, buttery bun. Outside of Qianmen, most street food comes from the back of someone’s bicycle. They attach a box of food to the back and just hang around somewhere. People sell fruit, roasted chestnuts, and my personal favorite, baked sweet potatoes.

Outside the Confucian temple, we got stopped by these adorable guys from Beijing University. They were all holding cameras, so at first I thought they wanted pictures of us (that happens when you walk around with blonde people in China), but instead they asked if they could each have a conversation with us and film it. It was homework for an English class. It was seriously the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me! They were all obviously very nervous, and kept checking their scripts whenever they forgot what they were supposed to say.

My last meal in Beijing. It was good, nothing special, but what I really liked was the English translation on the menu: eggplant face. The word for noodle, 面 mian, has several meanings, one of which is face. I laughed so hard when I saw that!

My five days in Beijing were definitely some of the most memorable yet. Honestly, I wish I could have stayed longer! Being able to practice my Chinese with real people was so great, too. I’m really sad I won’t have time to make it to Shanghai during my stay here in Asia, but I guess that just gives me a great excuse to come back.

Buddhaful

School is finally into a regular schedule, and it’s official: my Tuesdays are awful. Sure, I only have one class on Monday and Thursday, and I get Wednesday and Friday off, but I definitely pay for it with Tuesday. I have class from 12:30-10 with only an hour for dinner. Yeah, that’s right, 10pm. Last Tuesday, classes were cancelled, and the Tuesday before that was the first week and only two of my classes met, so yesterday was my first real hell day. I was absolutely exhausted by the end! And I thought I had packed enough food with an apple and some crackers, but my stomach was growling the whole time.

Last post, I talked about the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which literally has over ten thousand Buddha statues. As a follow up to that, last Friday I went to the Big Buddha. It’s literally a gigantic Buddha. They’re not very creative with names here, I think. Either way, it was awesome.

It’s way up on the mountain in Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. The subway doesn’t go that far, so after that you can either take a bus or go with the more exciting/expensive option: cable cars.

(I say expensive, but really it’s only about $150HKD roundtrip, or 20 bucks for the fans back home.)

If the cable cars weren’t cool enough, you can pay a little extra to ride in a crystal cabin. What does a crystal cabin entail, you ask? Glass. Floor.

Those are my stylin’ Birkenstocks, if you were wondering.

Anyway, once you get there, there’s plenty to do. The cable car lets off in Ngong Ping Village, a ridiculously touristy area of shops where all the buildings are made with stereotypical Chinese architecture – think Disneyland’s Main Street but Asian. They did have a shop filled entirely with vending machines, which was awesome! Not like food vending machines, but the kind where you put in a coin and hope/pray the little plastic ball that comes out doesn’t have something lame inside. I got a couple of ridiculously adorable cell phone charms.

Besides that, there’s plenty to just look at. There’s the Po Lin Monastery, where lots of people were praying, burning incense, that sort of thing. Plus there were tons of flowers, which I love, and I was able to snap a couple National-Geographic-esque shots:

At the monastery they have an all vegetarian restaurant. Yes, that’s right. All vegetarian. I can’t even explain how happy that made me. I had asked a friend – a local – why it’s impossible to get tofu at a restaurant here. He said, “Are you kidding? Tofu is cheap! No one goes out to eat and orders tofu!” Well, the monastery is my new favorite restaurant. It’s a set menu based on how many people are at your table, but everything was delicious. I haven’t seen so many vegetables on one table since I got here! There was an all-veggie soup, a cauliflower dish with fried tofu, bell peppers and cucumber with something very similar to Tofurkey, curry with corn and soft tofu, veggie spring rolls, mushrooms with bok choy… I was in tofu heaven.

After that, finally, what I had been waiting for: Big Buddha. You have to climb about a million stairs to get up to it, which is actually really awesome because it looks bigger and bigger the closer you get. I’m not kidding, this thing is huge – over a hundred feet tall. And since it’s way up on the top of the mountain, you can see it for miles! Pretty crazy.

At the very top, there are six smaller (but still pretty big) statues circling it, giving offerings of flowers, fruit, and other things Wikipedia tells me are necessary to enter nirvana.

Then on Saturday I made a complete turnaround from Buddhist temples and went shopping. Considering my bargaining skills are unbelievably poor, I think I did pretty well for myself – shorts, a shirt, a belt, sunglasses, a wallet, and a reusable grocery bag for under $50USD. Mong Kok is the best.

After that we went to Pui O beach (again on Lantau) for a concert-type thing at a bar right on the shore. I felt like, just for that evening, I left Hong Kong and was back in California. The band playing when I got there was really great – calm, beachy music, very appropriate for the occasion. The sand on the beach was the softest I’ve ever felt on my life, and it was so relaxing to stand with my feet in the water and listen to the music in the background. The band that came on after that was pretty terrible, but at least I still had the waves! I definitely want to go back to that beach in the daytime.