What I’ve been eating

I am the type of person that takes pictures of my food. If you don’t want to be my friend anymore I understand…but please reconsider.

Now that I have confessed, here are some photos.

My students brought pizza to our last class.

Spanish chef neighbor teaching us to make croquetas. Think grandma’s sausage gravy, rolled in a ball, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.

Snack of choice while working in the office, sweet potato chips. In fact, I am munching on some right now.

Christmas tapas (cilantro pesto, tapenade, slow-cooker spicy beef, cheese, salami, ham, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and mushrooms, bread, sweet potato casserole). We’ve been eating a lot of this kind of dinner lately. Maybe it’s our Spanish neighbors rubbing off on us or maybe eating stuff on top of bread is just a good idea.

Christmas present from my brother.

We’ve had a New Year’s day tradition for the last 4 years of eating Deokguk, Korean Rice cake soup.

Tongli pork and noodles.

Apple tart made to share with our friends on El Dia de los Reyes.

Cupcakes for a going-away party.  Grace and peace, Erna!

Still friends?

Happy Year of the Monkey from Tongli!

Matt and I celebrated the new year with a day trip to Tongli, one of the many small water towns surrounding Suzhou. Suzhou and the neighboring towns are teaming with man-made canals. It’s not hard to believe that there were once more canals than streets. Historically, I suppose, the canals were the highways. Nowadays, you can still see the occasional cargo bamboo raft floating down a canal, but they are mostly for irrigation, drainage and tourism. So, we tourists strolled the narrow walkways lining the canals, explored the old courtyard mansions, ate the local food, and enjoyed a sunny holiday in Tongli.

Travel tips:
Eat Tongli pork: They will cut it up for you and give you plastic bags for keeping your hands clean. It’s not classy, but it’s delish.

Stay at Blossom Hill Guesthouse: If you want to stay overnight, which we didn’t, this place looked really beautiful.

Getting there from Suzhou: We tried to take a bus but arrived at the stop just after one had come. We didn’t feel like waiting 2.5 hours for the next bus, so we took a taxi. From East Dushu Lake area it was 20 min and around 65 RMB. Coming back we took 2 buses to the subway, changed subway lines, transferred to another bus and 3 hours later made it home. Just take a taxi.

Bringing it home: jitoumi (gorgon fruit)

We recently visited Taihu 太湖 (Great Lake), the 3rd largest freshwater lake in China. We ate some jitoumi 鸡头米, translated directly to chicken head grain. It was stir fried with chopped lotus root and Taihu water chestnuts. It was delicious. Google gorgon fruit and you can see images of it being harvested and hulled.

Jitoumi, or gorgon fruit in English, has a chewy hominy-like texture. I liked it so much, I bought some from the vendor outside the restaurant with ambitions to cook some at home. Here is how I did it.

美式鸡头米 American Style Jitoumi
Cook jitoumi in rice cooker for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile roast diced veggies with salt and olive oil at 200C. I roasted sweet potato, bell pepper, spicy pepper, red onion, and garlic.
Mix cooked jitoumi, roasted veggies, fresh cilantro, and a splash of vinegar. Serve…I also crumbled some feta on top of mine.

Now some of you are thinking, “Great, but I don’t know where to get jitoumi.” My response to that is,
“There are veggie markets all over Suzhou that sell it. Come and get it. You can sleep on my couch.”

Xishan Island, Taihu: Quick escape from Suzhou

We are in a new province now, Jiangsu 江苏 , which affords us an all new selection of places we can reach in a weekend.  Xishan Island 西山岛 was the first to get marked off the list.

According to Wikipedia, Taihu 太湖 is the 3rd largest fresh water lake in China.  Xishan Island is the biggest island on that lake.

We took the Suzhou metro line 1 to Mudu 木渎 , then bus 69 for about 1.5 hours.  It was worth the haul.  There were no crowds this weekend.  Perhaps, since National Day is next Thursday, everyone is saving their 元 for lavish travel next weekend.  Whatever the reason, we had a wonderful time wandering around Shigong Hill 石工山 and Mingyue Ancient Village 明月港古村 (translates to Bright Moon Port Ancient Village) , eating local food harvested from Taihu, and watching the sunset over the lake from our dinner table.

If you go, we suggest staying at Fish Inn 飞鱼咖啡店 .  We didn’t but wish we did.  We stopped in their cafe for a couple of beers and the place was so clean and inviting.  It was the same cost as the place we were staying and had a lot more charm.  Also, the owner spoke excellent English, so if your Chinese is 马马虎虎。。。别担心。Seriously, don’t worry about it.

Welcome to Suzhou!

This spring, Matt and I decided to change things up a bit and pursue new jobs in a new city. Now we’re in Suzhou, “Heaven on Earth” as they refer to it here in China. It is beautiful, modern, and quite different from the China that Matt and I have been accustomed to for the last 3 years. Less staring, more foreigners, more foreign food, a Subway (the public transportation and the restaurant), less noise, less trash, more English.  I may miss some of the challenges of Nanchang.  I am already missing my friends there, but for now Suzhou is a really nice change.  I think we’re going to like it here.  Classes start in the beginning of September for both of us.  We are eager to meet our students.  For now, here are some pictures of our new life.

Our new apartment building

Our living room

The view from our 15th floor apartment

Early morning walk around the neighborhood. Suzhou is also called “the Venice of China” because it has so many canals running through the city.

Matt’s new school, Soochow University

Jenn’s new school, Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University

Jenn’s new office

Summer Vacation

Old friends, new friends, fresh air, s’mores, fishing, catching, camping, hiking, pizza, shopping, burgers, sun, games, fresh veggies, reading, late night talking.  It’s been a summer to be thankful for, and we are.  Thanks to everyone who made memories with us this summer.

20150816-051419.jpgSan Francisco layover

20150816-051507.jpgCache le Poudre, CO

20150816-051536.jpgWe bring our favorite part of China home with us. Eating homemade Chinese and King Supers sushi with family.


20150816-053450.jpgNice rainbow trout in Granby Lake, CO

20150816-051739.jpgHungry cutthroat in Upper Venable Lake, CO


20150816-053520.jpgBackpacking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, CO

20150816-051851.jpgA lovely Sunday afternoon with 2 beautiful mothers and their rapidly growing families.



Better Late than Never: New Zealand

Top Everything!

I’ve made lists, because there is really no way to express in paragraphs how much we loved New Zealand.

  • Top 3 Best Views
  • Top 3 Best Fish
  • Top 4 Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
  • Top 3 Best Meals
  • Top 3 Best Accommodations

Top 3 Best Views

Ahuriri River Valley, South Island

Kepler Track, Lake Te Anau, Luxmore Hut, South Island

West Coast Highway 6 between Westport and Punakaiki, South Island

Top 3 Best Fish

The First One, Mohaka River, North Island

The Famous One, Waiau River (Anduin River from LOTR), South Island

The Big One, Ahuriri River, South Island

Top 4 Lord of the Rings Filming Locations

Fangorn Forest, Snowden Forest, South Island

Mt. Doom, Mt. Ruapehu, North Island

Anduin River, Waiau River, South Island

Dead Swamp, Kepler Swamp, South Island

Top 2 Penguins

Blue Penguins coming in to feed their babies after a busy day at work, Dunedin, South Island

Yellow Eyed Penguin chicks hanging out, waiting for mom and dad to come home with dinner, Dunedin, South Island

Top 3 Best Meals

Potato, green olive, and caper pizza, WWOOF Host’s house, Napier, North Island

Cookies and cream ice cream topped with corn flakes, caramel, and a cookie in a waffle cone covered with white chocolate and raspberries…Giapo, Auckland, North Island

Spicy Noodle Soup…Oh, wait.  That was in China…I love Chinese food.  My Noodle, Shenzhen, China

Top 3 Best Accommodations

Te Nikau Retreat, Punakaiki, South Island–Incredible rain forest hideaway, 2 minutes from the beach.

Rural Bliss, Kinloch, North Island –This is where we stayed for our first week of WWOOF-ing.  Beautiful sustainable home, wonderful hosts, inspiring!

Luxmore Hut, Kepler Track, South Island–after a long, steep, and wet hike, this was the best view EVER!

The Journey North

A new Chinese legend starring Kepler, Paula, Matt, and Jenn.  An extraordinary journey to the snowy North past ancient palaces and great walls to frozen cities.  Will our 4 heroes be beaten by the elements or will they find their way to the Nescafe warming hut in time?…duh duh duh…

Lao Long Tou “Old Dragon’s Head” where the Great Wall meets the sea at Shanhaiguan.

Summer Palace, frozen over for the winter, becomes a giant ice skating rink outside Beijing

St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Harbin, once a Russian Orthodox cathedral.  Still beautiful outside.  Inside it’s been gutted and turned into a history museum.

Harbin‘s Ice and Snow Festivals

Chunbing, all your favorite Chinese dishes wrapped in crepes. Yum!

Ice blocks are pulled out of the frozen Songhua “Pine Flower” River to build the ice city.

Official food of the Ice and Snow Festivals, ice cream.  It’s warm compared to the air.

4.5 hour commute to the grocery store

Living abroad is often an exercise in “Learning to live without ______.”

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that Chinese people who travel abroad feel the same frustrations as I do when they go to the grocery store (Only 1 variety of soy sauce!  Excuse me, where is the dried fish aisle? You call this a rice cooker?!  But, there’s only 1 button.)  I also admit, we are blessed here with deliciously fresh produce, amazing local restaurants, and a large import grocery store.  However, there are some things that I miss (Every time I see something delicious on Pinterest, I scrutinize the recipe to determine whether the ingredients are available in our city or if cooking it is even possible in my kitchen).

Usually once a semester, I have an excuse to visit a larger, more developed city in China and you’d better believe that I hit up their import stores.  This month, a trip to Guangzhou (4.5 hours by speed train), resulted in a trove of gastro-treasures that we won’t have to live without for the next few weeks.  Curious what we bought?

In the picture: dill pickles, cornbread mix, walnuts, dried apricots, wasabi peanuts (a gift for you dad:), Dr. Pepper, salsa, Red Vines, granola bars, cupcake papers, macaroni and cheese, worchestershire sauce, hot sauce (China has their own spicy sauces that are amazing, but they’re not Frank’s).  Not pictured because they were consumed on the train ride home: Almond Joy, Pretzels

Things we’ve yet to find in our city or elsewhere: canned pumpkin (really hard in the fall when everyone is pinning pumpkin flavored everything!) and sour cream.

For those interested in finding these delicacies in Guangzhou, go to Corner’s Deli in the Backstreet Shops of CITIC PLAZA (Linhexi Subway Station Exit D)

He ain’t LeBron James, but he’s good enough

Matt participated…that is, DOMINATED the JUFE Faculty Basketball Tournament last month. His team was made up of teachers, staff, and 2 vice deans from the Foreign Languages Department. In order to preemptively address any assumptions or stereotypes you may be forming, I’ll have you know, Matt was not the youngest or the tallest member of the team.

Everyone played really well, and by the end of the 2-week tournament, they were looking like a team. The championship was well deserved.
The Foreign Languages Department team (外语队WaiYuDui) played against other departments including the fast (but not fast enough) Economics Department, the strong (but not strong enough) Campus Security Office, and the tall (but not Yao Ming-tall) Dept. of Tourism Management.

The Foreign Languages Dept. won every one of their 7 tournament games, losing only once during the week in an exhibition game against the Physical Education Department, which didn’t count towards the tournament since “they’re like professional!” The final game was against the team from University Administration, defending champions for the last 4 years. Final score: 32:24!
Maybe Matt will sign up for the CBA Draft this spring.

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