Life of Megan

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ten Ingredient Shopping Trip (Vegetarian Version)

Mark Bittman did a segment on the Today show a while ago about making a week's worth of food with only ten ingredients. Today, the NY Times featured an article featuring Mark's 10-ingredient list and recipes for the five meals.

Many of the people who commented on the article thought there should be a vegetarian list, and others felt the menu was too short and/or should use more fruit and grains.

So I thought to myself, "I can do that."

And here I am. I assume you have the following things on hand (pantry/fridge): noodles (udon or linguine would be great, but whatever), rice, dried beans, basic dried spices, oil (sesame oil would be a plus), vinegar, soy sauce, butter, parmesan, peanut butter, honey, sugar, mustard, canned tomatoes. Maybe some of those are pushing it, but I think only beans and canned tomatoes may be rarities.

The Shopping List
  • Eggs
  • Fruit (your choice; for snacking and dessert)
  • Good bread, French, Italian, or Sourdough
  • Salsa
  • Sharp Cheddar
  • Broccoli
  • Arugula or Spinach
  • Tortillas
  • Limes
  • Cilantro

Breakfast and Lunch
For breakfast, you could eat toast, a peanut butter sandwich, eggs, French toast. For lunch, there's leftovers, plus sandwiches (PB, PB&H, cheese), noodles, etc.

The Dinners

Stir-Fried Eggs and Tomatoes on Rice, Stir-Fried Broccoli
Eggs and Tomatoes sounds kind of strange, but it's a Chinese staple. I just saw a recipe for it at Epicurious's healthy recipe of the day feed. For the broccoli, just blanch it for a couple of minutes in boiling water, then strain. Heat oil in a skillet. Add some garlic and ginger (both chopped), if you happen to have some on hand. Add the broccoli and a pinch of crushed red pepper and stir-fry until broccoli is fork-tender. Add a little soy sauce. If you have any sesame oil, add a tiny bit of that too. Toss and serve.

Mexican Rice and Beans
Cook the beans in a crockpot while you're at work. Finish them off with some salt and cumin. Squeeze a little lime into the beans. To cook the rice, start by preheating your oven to 350. Add some oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Toast the rice in the pan until it turns opaque. Add to the rice a mixture of 1 parts water to 1 part salsa that is the same volume of liquid you'd use to cook rice normally. Salt (use 1-1.5 tsp per cup of rice). Bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven. Cook 25 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Serve with a little chopped cilantro and tortillas. Add a simple salad if you'd like--make a "vinaigrette" using 1 part lime juice to 3 parts oil, plus a little salt and pepper. (Rice recipe is a quick recap of Rick Bayless's method in Mexican Everyday

Bean Stew, Salad
Cook some beans in the crockpot while you're at work. When you get home, if you have any, chop some onions and garlic. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, sautee the onions and garlic. If you don't have any, no worries. Add tomatoes to the skillet and cook for a while. Then add beans and some of their cooking liquid. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Cook for 5-10 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Add arugula or spinach and cook until greens are tender. Cook an egg sunny side up. Spoon the stew into bowls, and top each with parmesan and a sunny-side-up egg. Serve with bread, if you'd like, a small salad with an oil-and-vinegar dressing.

Broccoli Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Boil broccoli in salted water. Puree the broccoli with enough of it's cooking liquid to bring the soup to the desired texture. Add pepper and a pat or two of butter. For the sandwiches, spread some mustard (preferably dijon) on bread. Top with cheese and a second piece of bread. Heat oil in a skillet. Grill the sandwiches in the hot skillet. The soup technique comes from Gordon Ramsay.

Noodles in Peanut Sauce
Mix peanut butter with soy sauce, vinegar (preferably rice wine), and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Heat sauce in a small sauce pan. Boil water. Cook some pasta to al dente. Drain. Mix with sauce.

Breakfast Burritos
Beat some eggs. Cook the eggs in the skillet over medium low, stirring nearly constantly. When the eggs are nearly set, add some salsa and a little cheddar. Spoon egg mixture onto tortillas and sprinkle on a bit of chopped cilantro. Fold tortillas to make burritos.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

China, Part 2 - The First 24 Hours

The first thing one does upon arriving at his or her hotel room when on an interesting vacation is to take a picture of the room and the bed. So, naturally, that's what I did. Behold, our room in the Sihe Hotel.

As it turned out, Judson and I were given the largest of the rooms among the family, and we could never figure out why. We are somewhat inefficient when it comes to space, so we were grateful for the extra room.

Anyhow, photos taken, we sought food, which was easy to find, since someone had recently made a trip to a local grocery store. Judson, Marc, Audrey, Grandma Franke, Austin, Dawn (Austin's girlfriend), and I all joined in and enjoyed the food and a beer or two. It was pretty tasty stuff. It's tough to find fresh lychees in the US, so those were a real treat.

I'm not really sure about what happened next. I think we sat there for a while and talked and drank. At any rate, we eventually wound up at a restaurant that specializes in Peking duck (and has won the award for best Peking duck in Beijing several years in a row). You'd think that in its city of origin, Peking duck would be unbeatable, but I wasn't really impressed with the whole meal. I think the best part was the squirrel fish. I am fairly certain I've had better Peking duck in Chinatown. But maybe that was all just the effect of jetlag. I don't know--the duck seemed dry to me, and the skin should have been crispier.

The next day, we set off for our real adventures. The agenda: Tian'amen Square, The Forbidden City, and Prospect Hill. The weather: extremely rainy. Judson and I went on this trip solo. We had planned to start at Prospect Hill and then work our way down to Tian'amen Square, but we couldn't seem to communicate that to our cab driver, who happened to understand Tian'amen very, very well.

A view from Tian'amen Square

Another view from Tian'amen Square. I think Chairman Mao's body is in that building for viewing. Mao apparently disliked Mondays as much as the next guy; the viewing/museum was closed.

Worker's Statue thingie on Tian'amen Square

I'm not really sure what one is supposed to do at Tian'amen Square. Judson's parents somehow spent an entire day there. Of course, they were able to see Mao. They report that he had a giant head. We just wandered around for a bit, took some pictures, and admired the Beijing police's really neat rain gear.

Soon enough, we were in the Forbidden City. It's not so forbidden anymore, but it is a gigantic compound. We had a great time exploring the buildings and seeing the architecture. We were able to look into many rooms to see how they would have been decorated during the various dynasties. There were a few really interesting exhibits about such topics as imperial pottery, weddings, and about the emperors themselves.

Finally, we moved on to Prospect Hill, also called something in Chinese, sometimes called Coal Hill. This hill was built using the dirt that was displaced when the moat was built around the Forbidden City. The top features a series of beautiful pavilions that overlook various parts of Beijing; some have wonderful views of the Forbidden City. The Prospect Hill area is part of a lovely park that features a number of beautiful gardens. It was a really nice place to visit, despite the weather. My camera stopped working before we reached the top of the hill, so the best I can offer is a picture of one of the Prospect Hill pavilions as seen from the Forbidden City.

For lunch, we ate at the restaurant at the Forbidden City, and the food tasted like an Asian-inspired microwave dinner. Dinner Monday night was Sichuan. It was tasty enough, but there was nothing really memorable.

Our shoes were dry sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Monday, June 15, 2009

China Part 1 - Miscellaneous

We had a great time in Beijing, but unfortunately, my camera broke the first full day there, so it'll be a day or two before I get pictures back. So I have to start talking about my trip with random stuff I might not have mentioned otherwise.

One of the first things I wonder about whenever anyone travels abroad is what the bathrooms were like. In the unlikely event that people who read my blog are the same way, I'm going to start there. The standard Chinese toilet is called (at least by the Powers family) the squatty potty. It's basically a female urinal, though it's used for pooping by both sexes. They're kind of scary to use, but Austin gave us plenty of tips (including showing us how to squat--it's a deeper squat than you would do for strength training), and I didn't have any problems. In case you're planning a trip to China, you may want to read this E-How article before you go.

Other negatives:
All the bathrooms stink, since the Chinese do not flush the toilet paper. I have no idea why they do not flush the paper. I believe they feel it'll clog the sewers.

Many of the bathrooms have no doors. Sometimes, there's not even a door at the bathroom entrance.

Generally, there is no toilet paper provided.

The handwashing equipment is hit-and-miss, and there is rarely anything to use to dry your hands.

Sometimes, there are no hooks. Once, I had to use a squatty potty while wearing my backpack. Not fun.

What the bathrooms lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. It's rare to go more than 2-3 blocks in Beijing without finding a toilet.

One real advantage of the squatty potty in general is that you don't have to touch anything.

We did find many nice bathrooms while in Beijing. You could generally tell how many Westerners visited a location by the type and cleanliness of bathroom available. I was very glad I had brought along instant hand sanitizer, and I used so much of it that I wasn't really angry when the Chinese wouldn't let me bring it on the plane with me on the way home. (They also took the bottles of water we bought after we had cleared security. What the hell?)

The water in China is not potable. This is a real problem because Beijing is very dry, practically a desert, and is also very hot this time of year. Bottles of water are somewhat cheaper than they are in the US. We got 3 liters of water per day for about $1.50, and then we bought additional water on the streets. I have never been so thirsty in my life.

Taxis and Driving
Driving in Beijing is harrowing. The Chinese driving style is apparently to watch everything in front of you, nothing behind you, and to honk frequently. Pedestrians yield to both cars and to bicycles, the thinking being that it's easier for a pedestrian to stop than for a car. Lanes are suggestions.

Taxi drivers do not speak English. We generally got around on our own using a handy card our hotel had provided. Whenever Austin and his girlfriend Dawn were around, they'd have long discussions with our cab driver about how to get to the right place. Taxis are dirt cheap, so we didn't really worry too much about being driven around the block an extra time or two. We once were in a cab for 90 minutes, and it cost us $10. It's all right to sit in the front seat of a cab in Beijing.

Well, that's all I know for now, and I am dog tired. I should have my pictures from my digital camera back tomorrow, thanks to a handy memory-card reader thingie Judson has at his office.

Tomorrow's topic: The Forbidden City and other first-24-hour activities.