Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's That? yogurt maker

Isn't it cute?!
This What's That? Wednesday post really isn't specific to China, but it is a new adventure for me since moving here.  Some friends in my apartment compound introduced me to the idea of making my own yogurt.  They said that once I started I wouldn't got back!  I did a Google search online for a little information and inspiration and there are so many ways (and a few are a bit over-the-top and include larger coolers, a specific temperature of water, etc.) to make yogurt.  But, I think I have the easiest way.  I take a couple tablespoons of yogurt starter, which are either the left-overs from the previous week's batch or a few dips from a carton of yogurt.  I pour a box of milk in (see last Wednesday's post), push a button and wait.  Usually I let the yogurt "cook" over night and then pop it in the fridge for a day to set up and we're ready to go.  Sometimes I have to strain the yogurt through a tea towel (available at Ikea in Shanghai, just FYI) to reach a thicker consistency.

I've also been told that once I start making my own jams & jellies and adding a dollop to my homemade yogurt I will be in heaven.  Actually right now my family is obsessed (or addicted, it's a toss-up) with my friend Megan's homemade granola that she sells and delivers on Fridays.  A little honey, a spoon full of granola and our yogurt and we've got a great breakfast.

Just to bring the post back to girls still prefer the Chinese yogurt I buy at Metro because it is very thin.  It's customary to pop a straw in your yogurt and drink it.  This makes it very portable and my girls actually finish their yogurt.

Now, go enjoy your Dannon fruit-on-the bottom or Yoplait whips yogurt while I dig for my granola...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day from the McClintocks!  A few weeks ago I found out that Lilly's school doesn't celebrate Valentine's Day, so the girls and I decided to host a party at our house for some of their friends in our apartment compound and across the street.  It was hard to decide where to draw the line!

Jamie went back to the States in January and he brought back some Valentine's Day candy, balloons and other supplies.  We also received two care packages within the last week, one from each grandma, and we had enough crafts for all of our guests too.

LBean and a classmate getting ready to play
Valentine's Day Bingo.
On Saturday morning we had our own mini-United Nations Valentine's Day party; we had Mexico & Spain, Hong Kong & South Korea, England, China, and the US represented.  It was great having so many different people in our home.  We all live in the same apartment compound, but we were all connected in other ways too.  For half the group, the husbands all work at the same company, and another half attend the same school.  Over the last six months it has been great building friendships with those you see at the bus stop and on the playground.

EBean's Bingo card.

Enjoying a decorated rice krispy treat.

Finishing her card.
LBean & EBean's finished "thumb" creations

Two very special friends!

Wii competition!

A whole lot of kids = a whole lot of fun!
The kids played Valentine's Day bingo and covered their cards in conversation heart candy.  They made Valentines that said "thumb body loves you" using their thumb prints and colored cards.  We decorated heart-shaped rice krispy treats and munched on Mexican tacos and fresh strawberries.  The kids ended the day playing the Wii and playing with toys.  You know it's a good party when it goes on for an hour longer than planned!  I think we could have talked & played most of the day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Christmas Memories

This past Christmas we were able to re-create our memories from the States here in China.  Some things were a bit easier than others.  For example, because of traveling and extended family Christmases, Santa has never come on Christmas Eve.  Ever since having children, he visited a few days before Christmas so we could celebrate in our own home.  Which, is really funny because the only argument Jamie and I had in pre-marital class was based on my insistence that Christmas morning be spent in our own home with our children.  But, now I like having Santa come early so that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is not all about Santa and we can focus on the real reason for the season.

Thankfully Santa got my text and emails, so he knew to come visit our apartment in Suzhou before we flew back to U.S. for our first visit back.  This made things a bit complicated because we had to cram Christmas between celebrating EBean's birthday, her actual birth date, LBean's Christmas program at school, and packing to visit the U.S. for three weeks.  We managed, but it wasn't always pretty!

In my mind these are the things the make it Christmas at our house:

1. Making & decorating sugar cookies
2. Cooking a family meal & using the good china
3. The girls getting an ornament that represents their interests for the year
4. Opening matching pj's on "Christmas Eve" to wear on Christmas morning
5. Each child getting a book, which they find on their bed in the morning
6. Cinnamon rolls or other breakfast goodies to eat on "Christmas morning"
7. Reading the story of Jesus' birth
8. The girls exchanging a present with one another

Here's my assessment from our first Christmas in China:
1. We made the cookies using Aunt Dorothy's sugar cookie recipe.  The ingredients are a little more expensive here, but worth every penny.

2. I did not cook a family meal.  Usually I would make a ham or some yummy steaks, but considering the limited availability of ham and the incredible cost of good steaks (and the good china is in a storage unit in East Peoria), we decided to go out to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Old Town.  I told Jamie I think that I would consider changing our tradition to eat Chinese for our Christmas Eve to reflect our changing family.  It also makes me think of the movie "A Christmas Story" (even though that scene in the movie is stereotyping just a bit).

3.  I didn't find a good place to pick out ornaments for the girls.  So, we decided to choose ornaments at Hallmark during our visit to the U.S. (which they promptly broke) and they were allowed to pick out ornaments at a Christmas bazaar as a fundraiser for the orphanage where I volunteer.

4.  Oh boy, I managed to get the jammies made here, but I only had about 2 hours to spare. The week before our "Christmas" I went to the Suzhou fabric market to have pj's made for the girls since I didn't find anything I liked in the stores.  It was pretty easy to find flannel that I liked and with the help of my friend (who speaks much more Chinese than I do) we found out that we needed to go to the next stall over to have them sewn.  The guy running the booth told me he could have it done in 2 weeks, I shook my head and pointed to the calendar to say I needed them finished in a week.  He agreed.  I went back the next Friday to pick up the pj's and he said "ming tian", which means tomorrow.  "Ming tian" happened to be the Saturday that we were having our Christmas.  I went back the next morning to the fabric market and was standing at the gate when the man opened up his booth.  The jammies were not done.  He assured me that they would be done at 2 pm and to come back then.  Can you guess what happened?  You're right, when I went back they were not finished.  I wandered around the unheated fabric market and the flea market for 90 minutes while he made the pj's.  The only upside to the experience is that I now know where to buy buttons, rubber bands, uniforms for various jobs, ribbon, and dishes.

Matching jammies
5.   I managed to get the girls their books.  The wet market across the street also has a book store with English books.  That was an easy task to accomplish!

A new book, LBean was so happy

6.  A good friend here has started a baking business.  On Friday she delivers homemade cinnamon rolls and granola to her customers around Suzhou.  I was very happy to let Megan do the Christmas baking for me this year!

7. This was another memory that was easy to make was reading the nativity story.  Our sea shipment allowed us to bring 500 books, which about 90% of them were the girls' books, and included our book about Christmas.

Curled up and reading about baby Jesus.

8.  I was able to pick up some extra books at the bookstore and the girls really enjoyed wrapping a present for each other.  I was very impressed that they were able to keep it a secret, which might be in part because we wrapped them right before bed!

This Christmas EBean was starting to really understand what was going on and opening presents was fun.  (**Notice to anyone that might be reading this entry to our children in the future...if they are still Santa-believers kindly skip over this part!)  Our challenges with gift-giving were two-fold.  1) Where do you hide larger gifts while living in a high-rise apartment?  Thankfully with the tree out of our large closet, we could slide a two-wheeled contraption from Santa in there.  2) How do you purchase gifts without the kids knowing, especially when it involves a trip to Shanghai?  This was a bit more challenging.  A couple of friends were headed to Shanghai and they were willing to pick up EBean's kitchen (we tell her she got a kitchen remodel by upgrading her $12 garage sale kitchen to a nicer wooden one).  It came time for my friends to leave and the driver thought the kitchen wouldn't fit in the van with all of the passengers.  Moving to plan B, I gave my driver the money and sent him to Shanghai with the promise that my friend's driver would call or text the directions to the woman's house that imports these wooden play sets.  After some confusion and a few calls from Jamie, my driver got the kitchen and he delivered it during EBean's nap...just 3 days before our Christmas.

EBean's stash

LBean's stash

EBean asked for two things for Christmas, this
play-doh set and a pair of blue safety scissors like
her sister's so she didn't have to share!

Later in the week LBean had her Christmas program at school.  I didn't know what to expect, but I know I wasn't anticipating the Christmas story complete with a manager, shepherds and a baby Jesus.  The songs were very cute and Jamie got to see LBean perform on stage.  It was the first time that we had been able to sit in the audience and watch LBean without her wanting to come sit with us.

LBean is second from the right in the middle row.

A very happy girl!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: Beverages

This week's What's That? Wednesday inspiration came to me at breakfast that morning (believe it or not I don't have these things planned out weeks in advance...flying by the seat of my pants here).  Some of our beverage options, and customs, are a bit different here.

National food quality standards are still developing and there is a bit of skepticism about the safety of some foods produced here.  Milk is one of those products.  You will find a range of opinions on this and some expats choose to drink the fresh milk and others don't.  When we got here we were introduced to the concept of boxed milk, and since we've been pleased with it, we haven't switched.  We buy German produced irradiated boxed milk, which means that the milk can remain at room temperature on a shelf.  After the milk is opened, it has to be refrigerated and consumed in the same amount of time as regular milk before it will go bad.  I don't think that irradiated food is as common in the US as in Europe and there are those that don't think it is as safe (even though you'll often spot it behind the counter of your local Starbucks).  I guess we have to choose what we think is the safest from all of our options.  We drink enough milk, partially because I use it to make yogurt, that I typically buy an entire case of milk at a time.

Another beverage that we've grown accustomed to, which is actually a very typical Chinese thing to drink, is hot water all year round.  Even when we visited in June during our home-finding trip, which was in the 80's, we were given hot water.  I shouldn't have poked so much fun then, because now I love to have a mug of hot water before bed!  It has no caffeine or sugar and it warms me up on these cold nights.  If you ask for water at a restaurant, they will typically give you hot water, unless they serve enough foreigners and assume that you want cold water.  Drink up!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stepping Out in Shanghai

I love Shanghai...there’s not much else to it.  I like the mixture of the old and the new, the British influence mixing with the Chinese, the good shopping and the old gardens, the little neighborhoods, the vibe and the feeling of possibility.

Jamie & Aruna
The weekend we traveled back to the States for Christmas our family was very lucky to spend some time with one of Jamie’s college friends (a.k.a “Study Buddies, you know who you are), Aruna and one of her co-workers.  Aruna was traveling in China and happened to be in Shanghai for the weekend.

Looking down Nanjing Road

We had a great time staying downtown, right along Nanjing Road, which is one of the major shopping areas.  Even though it was cold, we had a great time walking up and down the street.  Being fans of Chinese dumplings, we asked the concierge where to go for some good dumplings and he sent us down the road to a mall.  He basically sent us to a Chinese food court where people were jostling for an open seat.  We decided that wasn’t the best place for us and as we were walking towards the exit we passed by a sit-down restaurant that was a bit more promising.  The amazing part of this is the ease with which we walked into the “unknown”.  When we first moved here, the thought of walking into a restaurant that was unfamiliar and hadn't been recommended by friends would have been completely overwhelming, but now it’s just not that scary and part of the adventure.

After pointing to several pictures and using our limited Chinese, we ordered a variety of dishes and had a nice meal.  The girls really wanted ice cream from Dairy Queen, even though it was very cold and the mall was not heated, but we couldn't resist and they enjoyed their ice cream while wearing their winter jackets.

Huddled for warmth?

Along The Bund with the
Pearl tower in the background.

Sunday morning we started our tour of Shanghai walking along The Bund.  The Bund is an area along the river that runs through central Shanghai.  Because Shanghai was a British settlement for so long, many of the buildings are in an older colonial style.

View along The Bund

One of the entrances to the grounds around Yuyuan Gardens

Buying roasted chestnuts and yes
the song runs through my head too!

Water fountains outside the gardens
We spent the rest of our time south of The Bund in “old town” near Yuyuan Gardens.  It is a fun part of town with narrow alleys and small shops selling over-priced Chinese trinkets (a great place for souvenirs and working on your negotiation skills).  If you can find the entrance to the Gardens, and are willing to pay the small entrance fee, you will be transported back in time.  The gardens were quiet and peaceful and really a lot of fun for the girls to run through the tunnels, climb up & down the steps and see the fish in the different water gardens.

If you zoom in you can probably see the Starbucks
sign in the background.
According to Wikipedia: The garden was first established in 1559 as a private garden created by Pan Yunduan, who spent almost 20 years building a garden to please his father Pan En, a high-ranking official in the Ming Dynasty, during his father's old age. Over the years, the gardens fell into disrepair until about 1760 when bought by merchants, before suffering extensive damage in the 19th century. In 1842, during the Opium Wars, the British army occupied the Town God Temple for five days. During the Taiping Rebellion the gardens were occupied by imperial troops, and damaged again by the Japanese in 1942. They were repaired by the Shanghai government from 1956–1961, opened to the public in 1961, and declared a national monument in 1982.

Aruna & Kara inside the gardens

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: Feb. 1, 2012

This is an ode to the piece of furniture I never knew I needed...the shoe cabinet.  In fact, before I moved to here, I'm pretty sure I didn't even know they existed.  In China, you do not wear your shoes in your apartment or house.  If you saw some of the things we walked through, you wouldn't want to wear your shoes in the house either!

It really does make sense to leave the smelly, dirty shoes out in the hallway and step into the house with clean socks/feet.  Or, if you'd like be really Chinese, you can wear slippers inside.  We have such a collection of slippers...ones we purchased, several from the hotels we've stayed at, and gifts from people that I have a bucket by the front door full of slippers for ourselves and guests.  Any guesses to the color of Jamie's?  Bright Illini orange, of course!  The slippers are also helpful in the winter when it a tad bit chilly in the apartment.

Now, make sure your toe nails are painted pretty and your socks don't have holes in them and come on over for a visit.