Category Archives: the blog/writing

Meatless eating in SH: some background

When I moved to Shanghai in 2009, I dropped about 4kg the first three weeks. Watching the numbers on my cheap IKEA scale gradually slip to the right brought great feelings of satisfaction. I was living by myself at the time, out and about every day exploring the city and lugging home new supplies for the apartment; internet hadn’t yet been installed in my sixth-floor walk-up so even checking e-mail forced me out of the house. Apart from a few over-zealous weeks in college during which I took the stairs to my 17th floor dorm room once a day, this was the first time I’d had to trudge up more than a few steps to get home. I’m going to lose my nutritionist-prescribed 15 pounds in no time, I giddily thought.

It was much more than the physical activity, of course. Even though they may feel endless when one is weighed down by bags of groceries, six flights take all but a minute to complete: far from a rigorous work-out. What I was also doing, with a greater effect on my results on the scale, was limiting my food intake in strange ways. My unfamiliarity with the supermarket, HK-bred suspicion of mainland produce and meat, and bare-bones array of kitchen supplies led me to limit myself to the following foods: boiled noodles with Swanson clear chicken broth, frozen 湾仔码头 jiaozi, spoonfuls of Skippy, and Pretz sticks. Even though none of the above were healthful foods by any standards, due to the lack of variety—and company—I was barely eating. It was probably the only time in my life where meals didn’t matter to me.

Enter my boyfriend Sean, who arrived three weeks after me and had started getting into healthy eating a year or two before. I quickly accepted that my laissez-faire food habits weren’t going to cut it, that it was time to invest in a frying pan and take some chances with “fresh” veggies. (“Fresh”, because it turned out that much of the produce at our local supermarket, which happened to be owned by Walmart, usually appears half rotten.)

Even when we were able to find decent-looking items, there was the question of insecticides (which, if you think about it, are probably directly proportional to the aesthetic appeal of the vegetable). Many of the dish detergents on the shelves claim to double as fruit & veggie wash, so I was doing that for a while until Sean remarked that I was just trying to wash off chemicals with other chemicals. I then found out online that some people use white vinegar & water as a good veggie soak, so that’s what we’ve been using as long as we have white vinegar around. But who knows if that actually works? When we run out, we just soak it in tap water. It’s one of those things where you just have to hope for the best and not think too much about it.

With vegetables already causing some concern, we decided upon a simple rule of meatlessness in the kitchen. This practice was justified by reasons relating to health, environment, cleanliness, and a desire for simplicity (a.k.a. laziness). Without meat, we wouldn’t have to worry about putting unused portions in our unreliable freezer and defrosting in bacteria-minimizing ways. We wouldn’t have to keep track of two sets of knives, scissors, sponges, and cutting boards to keep raw meat from contaminating everything else. (Is this a paranoia that exists only in my family or a general practice, I wonder?)

Since then, apart from very occasional exceptions concerning bacon, frozen dumplings and 叉烧包, and a meal of 可乐鸡翅 (cola chicken wings), we’ve relied on vegetables, tofu products, and eggs (and rice/bread/noodles, of course) to satisfy our hearty appetites. We discovered a vegetable market near our compound, which Sean visits regularly, though we still get our proteins and processed foods at the supermarket. We’ve still been eating meat when we eat out, though, partly coz it’s hard to avoid when eating with friends, and partly coz it too often comes in the form of appealing dishes like 三杯鸡, 生煎, and 红烧肉.

I gained most of that 4kg back, though, I suspect because I was back to eating more and and eating out more. We’ve often felt gross after eating at a restaurant (particularly Chinese ones), weighed down by what we’ve come to assume to be oil and fatty meat. The oil is hard to avoid; even when I specifically request less oil to be used, dishes will arrive soaking in it. So we’ve decided, in the spirit of Lent (which started March 9), to see if we can give up meat for forty days. For vegetarians/vegans and those who’ve given up meat for Lent all their lives, this is not at all a big deal. And it wouldn’t be a deal at all if we only eat at home for the next few weeks. But we do enjoy eating out and having some semblance of a social life through shared meals, so it will still be a bit of a challenge, especially in a country where vegetarianism and the awareness of cases against meat eating haven’t really caught on.

What I intend to start here is a sort of journal of food (ad)ventures, particularly in the kitchen. This kind of blog is nothing new, and I am shy about speaking with authority, especially as regards what’s healthy and what’s not (even researchers can’t seem to agree on anything, which makes the quest towards healthy food habits all the more frustrating). But I’m not trying (yet, at least) to be a health advocate, or even expect to turn into a permanent full-blown vegetarian—I still love to indulge when I can. While I try half-blindly to make good food choices, the focus is more on creating simple meals that maximize the amount of real Food and are nevertheless delicious and full of variety.

These forty days of Lent will hopefully be the start of better food habits in general. So what follows this post will likely begin as a sharing of recipes and experiences as I explore what can be created in a limited kitchen (no oven and no meat) as well as satisfying meatless options that can be found outside of the home. This’ll also motivate me to expand my culinary repertoire—beyond the eight or so vegetables that have come to feature regularly on our dinner table.

Many of our friends here eat out a lot, reasoning that it can be just as cheap, and more convenient, compared with cooking at home. While I do enjoy eating out as well, I’d like to emphasize the benefits of eating at home: the lack of rude servers and spit on the floor, the joy I derive from making a meal and having it be appreciated by Sean (I am a housewife at heart, sigh), the sense of security that comes with knowing how my food was prepared (even if I can’t be sure how the ingredients were treated prior to my purchase), and the amount of veggies we can fit into a single meal. Oh, and the proximity of my bed after consuming a food coma-inducing meal :)

Also, I need and want to get back into writing, and what better way than to write about what I love?

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finding my feet, or my slippers, or somesuch

So… after another period of prolonged hibernation, my crippled excuse for a blog has shamefacedly made its way back to its old and ugly wordpress home, which appears to be no longer blocked. A thoroughly non-prolific year at the now defunct, along with blockage of the site in China starting late October 2010 for no explicable reason, dissolved any remnants of motivation I had to keep this thing alive.

But now, prompted by a sudden, almost desperately primal need to revive old passions (which has already led to the purchase of a digital piano, although that decision was largely motivated by boredom and an unwanted addiction to Transport Tycoon) I’ve decided to reboot this once again in order to funnel myself back into writing. This time, as Sean suggested, I am writing primarily for myself, which will cut down on time and energy editing for an audience and thereby lead to me writing faster and more… ideally. Why online and not in a private journal? I can’t keep myself accountable to a journal anymore, unfortunately. The Word file that was created intended as a journal is now unofficially dedicated to explosive vent sessions and, on the flip side, the occasional gush of unusually pleasant feelings, rather than a space to record my life, which I have somehow deemed no longer noteworthy.

Anyway, I’m planning for this space to become a place where I write about food, the most constant of my passions. I realize there are innumerable “foodie” blogs around and I feel a little foolish to be even considering adding my pitiful (pitiable? piteous? this is what happens when you stop writing for a year) few cents to the already saturated pool. But there does seem to be a lack (though maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough) of resources dealing with meatless cooking in China, and that—along with other food issues and discoveries—is what I want to focus on.

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MOVED–for good.

Fed up once and for all with wordpress being blocked, I’ve mustered up the moolah and bought a home. Barring any virtual housing crises, I’ll be there at least through 2010. Update your bookmarks (not that you probably have this bookmarked; I just like to say it) to Last one there’s a rotten egg!

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And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you

I’m taking advantage of the fact that it’s still January to partake in some of that corny reflection business that people are inclined to do at the start of a year. But instead of mumble-jumbling about 2009, a recent incident (in which I offhandedly said to Sean re some HTML nonsense, “I haven’t done this in ten years” and realised with horrified amusement that ten years ago I was actually doing things) has inspired me to dig a little farther back.

In short:

At the start of 2000, I was in Canada writing a lot of poetry, working on my first website (RIP Geocities), and hating pretty much the entire world except my family and a handful of friends from school.

At the start of 2010, I am in China not writing any poetry, working on the first website I’ve ever paid for, and hating select things about this world but loving my family and many more friends now scattered all over the globe.

What does this mean? Not much, except maybe that I’ve become 1) less inspired; 2) richer (well, relatively); 3) more discerning; and 4) a more frequent flyer.

Neither to prove nor to negate the above assertions, I’ve also reached into the dusty depths of my electronic file cabinet, where my grubby hands happened to be scrummaging yesterday in (a failed) search of an apt name for this site, and pulled out something I wrote in 1999 at the too-young-to-know-anything-but-thought-i-knew-everything age of fourteen. It’s a poem titled “And it was the Year 2010”, about a sturdy, reputable oak chair that one day, without warning, is replaced by a new metallic black one. I’ll spare you the bulk of the below-par poem, but if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share the final stanza. Stanza. Is that what they’re called?

And it was the year 2010
That Earth collapsed
Amidst social and political upheaval
And it* itself did too.
And only the faithful oak chair
Survived, and still remains.

*the new chair

It’s funny to think that ten years ago—just ten years ago!—I perceived 2010 as a faraway date, a time when sci-fi, crazy things like the Earth collapsing could happen. (Granted, I think I was reading a bunch of science fiction at the time and was a little obsessed with, you know, the end of the world, battle between good and evil, that kind of thing.) But then again, things–buildings, ideals, economies–are collapsing all the time. Something else just gets built in their place. 2010 has barely begun; I suppose I shouldn’t be so quick to underestimate the things that could happen in a year.

This just goes to show that I still have no accurate or reliable sense of the progression of time. I may sit here every day and think about how far off my mid-thirties are (not that I really do…), but then ten years will fly by and while Armaggedon might remain a fiction, so might my dreams and aspirations. On the other hand, I’m also sitting here (on a metal-framed black chair, actually) thinking that a year, a month, a day is not enough time to do the things I need/want to do—and by the way, what were the things I wanted to do again? I suppose I could start with actually figuring out what those dreams and aspirations are.

Thanks for indulging me in this rather pointless exercise in self-reflection. I’m down with a cold, and being sick does have a way of making one slightly more prone than usual toward existential thoughts.

P.S. I am much more self-conscious these days than I used to be back when I had all my creative work online for any and all to see, so at first I was a little iffy about quoting my own writing in relative public (what presumption!). But whatever. My recent life has been partially defined by nostalgia for my writing days—loosely defined as my mid-teenage years—and a search for clues as to how to get even a part of it back, and maybe part of the answer lies in overcoming my fear of sharing (thanks, Lez, for writing very eloquently on those sentiments). It might sound horribly self-indulgent to you, and it probably is, but let’s face it, we all have certain personal struggles that sound a little wacky when put into words and shared.

P.P.S. If you didn’t already catch it, the title of the post comes from Pink Floyd’s “Time”. Listen to it. It might never leave you.

P.P.P.S. I’ve finally realized why I don’t blog as much as I’d like. It takes me freaking AGES to write one of these things! Definitely something I need to work on this year.


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I have a domain name!! No more logging onto a VPN and having it time out in the middle of a post! Hurrah, hurrah, Pennsylvania.

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Hold me to my word

In my twenty-something years of life so far, the new year has rarely actually signaled new beginnings, but this year seems to be different. Life has picked up pace; I’m getting busy; things are a’changing. I’m not sure where to start, so maybe I’ll begin with a list of things I’ll be posting about–more to force myself to eventually get around to them than anything, really. Also, it looks like WordPress has been reblocked, so this will take some time… (excuses.)

1. My new tutoring job(s), Chinese kids, Chinese parents.

2. Biking in Shanghai.

3. Winter must-haves.

4. Culinary/gastronomic adventures.

5. Being published (soon).

6. Thoughts on the past semester at East China Normal University.

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2010 – Lookin up

Pudong skyscrapers

Apologies for the absence and for an insubstantial first post of the year. A real update soon, I promise. Life has been happening.

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There and back again

Hallelujah! Three days after my move to the lesser (and writing wishfully re the possibility of WordPress getting unblocked), WordPress has suddenly come down from the Great Firewall for reasons unknown. And so I am back again, VPN-free… for how long, who knows anymore. But I am hopeful. Holler.

(The link will still be active as a back-up.)

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