清补凉 – Clearing Tonic

I loathe this dampness in the air, it’s literally sinking into my bones and makes me want to crawl into bed and hibernate until spring. It’s times like these where soup is my choice of meals.

This year, I’ve ventured into the world of Chinese soups. I’ve been drinking some at the restaurant I frequent, and have poured supermarket aisles to recreate some of them, with success so far. There’s a wonderful blog called The Chinese Soup Lady if any of you are interested (there are vegetarian versions available which I might try).

I’ve been pestering one of my coworkers for other ingredients which I quickly forgot. Luckily, I happened to pick up this ‘soup packet’ at the supermarket last week which was pretty much all the items she mentioned.

sarah li cain-mumbled jumbles-clearing tonic01

If you literally translate this soup means ‘Clearing Tonic’. It is said to aid in digestion and improve health.

Here’s an image of all the ingredients out of the pack (excuse the dirty dishes!):

sarah li cain-mumbled jumbles-clearing tonic02My coworker also recommended snow fungus, which I also bought happily (so glad these ingredients are cheap here!)

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I grabbed my half chicken, some leftover chicken bones (always have some in the freezer just in case I decide to whip up broth/soup) and away I went!

I literally rinsed the herbs, and peeled the longan (the brown round thing) and set a pot of water to boil.  Put all the ingredients and cook/low boil for two hours.

The soup came up sweet and thicker than I thought. I’m thinking it was the gelatin from the chicken bones and joints.

Trust me, it is delicious! My only complaint is that I wish I had a bigger pot.  Still, it is enough for 3 small bowls of soup for me to bring to work and savour during break/prep times.

yum yum.

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Baked tamales

As a random goal of mine  (and probably to see how cheap/frugal I can be just for fun), I’ve been trying to prepare different “Western” dishes using solely ingredients that you can find at the local supermarket. Of course, I’m not counting any kind of fat/oil, simply because I’m sort of paranoid about the quality of oil (blended oil, though cheap, has made me sick in the past here, and I rather pay more for good quality stuff).  I attempted yesterday to make baked tamales with some good success here. Recipe below and some modifications I had to make:

Ingredients:

Meat Mixture:

-1 pound  ground beef  (you can’t really do proper ground beef at your local grocery store, so go to a “foreign” one or just cut up some flank steak because the bigger establishments usually carry this)

-1/2 to 1 14oz can tomatoes (you should be able to find it at a Chinese Wal-Mart, but it can be difficult. I had one in my pantry, so I kind of cheated on this one)

-1 tablespoon chili powder

-1 teaspoon cumin (you can get seeds or ground cumin, I opted for ground cumin, but I think either is fine)

-1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (it’s easier to get a stick at the local market and just grind it in a blender or grater)

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/2 to 1 cup onions (as a optional you can add jalapeno peppers or other veggies, for the sake of this experiment I left the jalapenos out)

Corn Meal dough:

-2 cup corn meal/ corn flour (I used corn flour, or there is medium grind cornmeal which in English translates to “grind corn” or the equivalent to that)

-1 teaspoon salt

-4 cup water

-1 egg, well beaten

-2 tablespoon butter (bought this at a foreign market because I like it unsalted, but you can totally buy this at a Chinese market near the bakery section)

Method:

-Saute beef until brown.  Add tomatoes, onions and spices and cook for another 15 min.

-Make corn meal dough.  Bring water to boil and add corn meal/ corn flour over medium heat and cook until thick, about 5-10 minutes.  Add eggs and butter. Stir well.

-Grease a baking dish and line bottom with half the corn meal dough.  Add meat mixture and cover with remaining corn meal dough.  Bake 20 minutes at 325F, or until browned.

The issue I had was with the toaster oven I used.  I was a bit paranoid about the corn flour mixture, but the only difference I will say is that the texture is different.  So it really depends on that what you want to use (next time I’m going to use the corn meal I saw, and see what happens).  Secondly, unless you have a proper confection oven, you can’t follow the directions to bake it exactly.  We end up waiting about 40 minutes for this thing because I forgot about this.  I ended up cranking up the toaster oven halfway through and checked it every 5 minutes to see if it was ready or not.  We made a pumpkin pie last year and had to do the same thing.  It does taste wonderful, but unless you’re cooking plain meat/veggies, it’s best to watch your dishes like a hawk and experiment with temperatures/times until you get it right.  The corn dough was a bit undercooked, but I know next time to adjust the temperature.  It tasted pretty good nonetheless and I’d probably attempt to make it again.

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The internet has been a bit shady this past week. Most foreign websites are blocked at work and sometimes at home. I’m finding it hard to access most things I use on a daily basis.

I am able now (finally!) to post a photo of myself and my husband because I celebrated a wonderful anniversary with him, and it coincided with a photo challenge this week.

Here’s to many more years, awesome-est husband in the world.

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Why it is hard to budget in China

Now, obviously this is an excuse NOT to try to save money or anything, but there are a number of reasons why budgeting for me here (until I move to the states in a year or so anyway) isn’t really appropriate. Sure, I keep track of my money, but I don’t do a crazy plan and the hubby and we still manage to save at least half our paycheque by the end of the year (oh yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!) . I have no idea if this applies to many people overseas, but I do feel very fortunate that I am in the position I am with the husband.

So here goes:

1) We are not in debt: I finally finished paying off my loans, and the hubby his car payment last year. So whatever we don’t spend we get to save. I know that when we move to the states in a year, we will probably want to buy a house. But until we get to that point, I have happy being debt-free.

2) We barely have any expenses: we are lucky to be in a position where the school pays for a housing allowance, and we don’t use all the money for rent. The rest of they money we use it towards household expenses (electric, gas, and water bills, plus TV and internet). The only expenses we really have are transportation, food, and phone bills. I  find it sad that some of my coworkers still complain expenses. Really!

3) Things are so cheap here: If we cook at home, we spend an average of 3-5 USD a meal for the both of us (cheaper if it is vegetarian).  I have most staples in the pantry so it is super easy to save.  You don’t even need to bulk buy (except for imported goods) and all supermarkets stock fresh produce daily, so I barely have to meal plan to save money. It’s so awesome.  That being said, we do tend to eat out a little too much at times and I am working hard to fix that issue. But sometimes going to a western restaurant helps to combat homesickness.

4) Impulse buys are easily forgiven: Again, goes back to things are pretty cheap here. Of course, if I feel like shopping just for fun, I limit myself to the local markets (like Dongmen and Hua Qiang Bei).  Last impluse buy: two awesome ‘silver’ necklaces for USD 1.50.

This makes me a little nervous about going back to the states, because I’ll have to be more careful about what I send there more so than here.  But until then, I figure I can enjoy myself while I can :)

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food resolution pt. 2

Ok, I knew it would have come to this. Most people who go on diets often cheat right? We’ll, I’ve had more sugary drinks than I care for (ok, only three, but that is a lot) and semi cheated on my diet (I had a a quesidilla with cheese, and not rotated my foods properly), and I feel uber guilty for it.

Now that I had my one of two wisdom teeth to pull out, I’m going to take the weekend to rest and regroup myself.  I have to focus on why I want to eat better:

-lessen ezcema symptoms

-feel more energized overall

-less stomachaches

-feel better in general

I’ve noticed in the last year since eating more grains/beans/fruit and less meat that it has made a difference in how I feel, mentally and physically. It is hard here because my job has been especially stressful lately, but it just means that I’ll have to find better ways to prepare meals. I’m writing this to remind myself of my food goals again. I know that it is ok to cheat sometimes but I don’t want to get used to eating junk all the time now.

So here they are:

-plan ahead meals so there is no excuse to deviate from diet

-continue with recording food on my food diary (and don’t cheat!)

-rotate all foods as much as I can (maybe start menu planning?)

-No more diary, no matter how delicious that pizza looks/smells

-eliminate highly refined foods eventually from my diet altogether

-baked goods/sugary foods OCCASIONALLY.  Will try to use honey for sweetener if craving a sugary fix.

This sounds easier, but it is definitely not. After years of not knowing why my immune system sucked and why my eczema flared up, I’m really trying to take control of my life with this.

Though, my good friend sent me cake mix I can actually eat, so maybe I’ll wait for another month and that can be my reward :)

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10 Things I’ve learned

I`ve been inspired by this post to write what I`ve learned in my short time here.  I`ve always mulled it over and over (sometimes a little too much) in my head but it`s the first time I`m writing it down:

1. Constantly remind yourself of long term consequences – This is important with money. Some people buy things that end up costing them more in the long run, even if it is cheaper each time.  As well, any decisions you make can have a consequence, such as food (which I`ve learned the hard way) or exercise.  Even the way you treat people will come and bite you in the butt later on.

2. Take time to take care of your body – I think people get lazy with their food choices, and it`s a shame.  Food should be something that is of utmost importance and to eat well means that you value yourself highly. Same with exercise. Trust me, it`s taken years for me to realize this.

3. Live with less – This means you spend less, less debt, which is better for everyone.  Also, when you`ve been living overseas for as long as I have, packing your bags to move from apartment to apartment is not something I`d call fun. Nor is packing your life into two suitcases to bring back to your home country.  If your place is so cluttered with stuff you forget it`s even there and you just buy the same thing over and over again.

4. Don`t be too hard on yourself – I still do this occasionally. If you take yourself too seriously you`ll just end up not enjoying the moment you are in. And it will stop you from putting yourself out there and have fun.

5. Wasting money is really, really bad – no explanation needed here.

6. Take responsibility for your own actions – Too many put blame on others, because they`re afraid of what will happen if they point the fingers at themselves. But this is the first step to improve yourself and live a happier life. It took me a long time to get here, but once I figured out what I`ve done (good or bad), I was able to grow, personally, financially and professionally.

7. There are always two sides to a story – Don’t rush to judge so quickly. I could have been less angry if I’d only waited and listened to the other person. It also lets you form your own opinions.

8. Stick to your beliefs and keep your integrity no matter what – There have been many times at work when I could have stooped to my coworkers, such as them not filling out paperwork or manipulating other people to give them promotions that they did not deserve. But I am happier and much better for not doing that.

9. Curl up with a good book – A computer, ipod touch isn’t all that. AND I save money by not buying a lot of that stuff.

10. There are more hobbies and enjoyable things in life other than drinking and partying – I know too many people who spend too much, suffer horrible hangovers only to not remember what they did last night (even though it was “fun”).   What is the point of life when you don’t remember the fun things?  There are more fulfilling things out there, trust me.

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